In its complaint, Bucks County attorneys claim that social media companies have knowingly contributed to youth depression and anxiety rates.
Bucks County officials have filed a major lawsuit against social media companies, claiming that platforms like Instagram and TikTok have provoked a mental health crisis among teenagers.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pennsylvania county has already characterized its legal claim as a “David vs. Goliath” challenge.
“We will protect kids in our county, and we will make them pay for the damage that they’ve done,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in a statement.
The complaint, filed in a California-based federal court, alleges that the owners of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube have devastated American teenagers’ mental health, worsening conditions such as anxiety and depression.
The lawsuit, writes the Inquirer, cites research suggesting that social media can be psychologically addictive and reinforce negative self-image.
Bucks County, on the northern periphery of Philadelphia, is seeking compensation for the costs of providing mental health treatment to tens of thousands of children.
Commissioners for both Bucks County have said that the lawsuit’s filing marks the first time that county governments have challenged Silicon Valley-based technology companies.
Liza Crenshaw, a spokesperson for Meta, said that the company is committed to protecting children.
“We want teens to be safe online,” Crenshaw told The Philadelphia Inquirer, adding that parents can use special controls to monitor how much time their children spend online.
Crenshaw said that Facebook and other Meta-owned platforms moderate content that promotes suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders.
Nevertheless, the Inquirer reports that, in 2022, a survey found that an estimated 34% of Bucks County youth were at risk for moderate to severe depression.
Similar percentages were reported for generalized anxiety disorders, while an additional 25% of students said that they had—at some point—considered committing suicide.
Now, Bucks County alleges that social media companies knew that their applications harmed teens’ sense-of-self, but never took any steps to amend or mitigate the alleged dangers.
“The algorithms they are using aren’t accidently getting children addicted. They are purposely getting children addicted to using their products and they are doing it in insidious ways,” Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan said.
The companies’ failure to take action, Bucks County claims, has created a “literal and figurative line out the door” at the county’s social services agencies.
“Up until now, those services have been footed by the taxpayers of Bucks County,” Khan said in a statement. “Today, this lawsuit is going to put a change to that.”
Matt Weintraub, the county’s district attorney, said he has heard numerous complaints from parents who do not know how to take action against social media companies.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked or besieged by parents who just don’t know where to turn because their children are suicidal or they suffer from anxiety or depression,” Weintraub said. “And this phenomenon, I think, corresponds with the advent and propensation [sic] of social media that has targeted our youth.”