Snapchat and Instagram were recently hit with a lawsuit alleging the companies are harming the mental health of America’s youth.
When COVID-19 hit back in the spring of 2020, it forced schools across the country to close and set off a chain reaction of mental health issues in adolescents and children. Suddenly, children were spending unprecedented amounts of time online in front of screens for virtual learning, and unable to connect with friends in person, many children increased their time on social media as a way to connect with each other. However, one family is now suing Snapchat and Meta-owned Instagram after their daughter allegedly became addicted to social media, harming her mental health in the process.
The suit was filed in US District Court in Oregon by Brittney Doffing, who teamed up with Social Media Victims Law Center and attorney Matthew Bergman. According to Doffing, her daughter was only 14 when Oregon received its first stay-at-home order. Before that, Doffing said her daughter was “in volleyball. She was in track. She was in basketball. She did drama. I mean, she was very outgoing.” She added:
“Her birthday came around and she was really wanting a cell phone and I was really hesitant about it, but then I kind of broke down because she lost all connections with everybody through school and that’s how a lot of her friends interacted, through cell phones.”
As the pandemic dragged on and her daughter spent more time online, Doffing noticed she began to develop “an addiction to social media, specifically Instagram and Snapchat,” something the mother said, “was and still is incredibly destructive.” She noted that “it happened very, very fast…Anytime I try to take the phone, she would get very physical, violent, verbal with me, with her sisters. She would smash the phones so that I couldn’t review the content.”
Concerned about her daughter’s mental health, Doffing reached out to Social Media Victims Law Center, a law firm based in Seattle. Together, they filed the suit against Snapchat and Instagram on behalf of the child, alleging the “social media companies are responsible for causing and contributing to the mental health crisis of her child and other children in the United States.”
When commenting on the suit, Bergman said:
“We are in for a long, difficult fight, and the prospect of compensation is very long and far away, and is not what’s moving or motivating us to go forward.”
The suit further argues:
“Meta has designed its products to be addictive and harmful to its users’ mental health and alleges Snapchat and Meta-owned Instagram is rife with sexual exploitive content and acts because of the social media platforms’ refusal to verify identity and age for new users.”
On top of that, the lawsuit accuses the social media companies of generating “profit based on the amount of time a user spends on the app and likens the design to a slot machine marketed toward teens.” To make matters worse, the suit claims the companies resort to using “complex algorithms that are psychologically manipulative and that the companies have progressively modified their products to promote problematic and excessive use that they know is indicative of addictive and self-destructive use.”
To back up the allegations, Bergman said, “Kids lack the emotional maturity and the neurologic maturity to respond appropriately to these kinds of stimuli.”
So far Doffing’s daughter has experienced two psychiatric episodes for which she was hospitalized. Both instances were triggered by “Doffing’s attempt to take away or restrict the use of Instagram and Snapchat.”