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Seattle Public Schools Files Public Nuisance Lawsuit Against Social Media Companies

— January 13, 2023

The lawsuit claims that social media companies are responsible for many students’ deteriorating mental health.

Seattle Public Schools has filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against social media developers, including the parent companies of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.

According to The Associated Press, the novel lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month.

In its 91-page complaint, the school district claims that social media companies have effectively created and propagated a public nuisance by marketing their products to children.

The lawsuit broadly seeks to blame social media companies for cyber-bulling and assortment of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and problematic eating.

“Defendants exacerbate the disruption of sleep by sending push notifications and emails either at night when children should be sleeping or during school hours when they should be studying, thereby prompting children to re-engage with Defendants’ platforms at times when using them is harmful to their health and well-being,” the lawsuit claims.

Attorneys for Seattle Public Schools claim that the district has been forced to devote extraordinary resources to combat the ill effects of social media, including hiring additional counselors and developing unusual lessons.

Smartphone with Instagram logo on screen; image by NeONBRAND, via
Smartphone with Instagram logo on screen; image by NeONBRAND, via

“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the lawsuit alleges. “Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive.”

The Associated Press notes that, while Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields technology companies from liability relating to third-party user posts and content, the lawsuit contends that federal law does not protect companies from the consequences of their own marketing campaigns and consumer initiatives.

“Plaintiff is not alleging Defendants are liable for what third-parties have said on Defendants’ platforms but, rather, for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”

The lawsuit cited internal Seattle Public Schools reports indicating that, between 2009 and 2019, there was a marked increase in the number of students who reported “feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row.”

A spokesperson for Google told The Associated Press that the company has “invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well being.”

Seattle Public Schools hopes that the district court will order social media companies to curtail the so-called “public nuisance,” award compensatory damages, and compel large corporations to pay for prevention education and the treatment of harmful social media addictions.


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