Social Media Addiction Litigation Update
The past decade has seen social media transform from an occasional pastime to a staple of life. Beyond social connections, people turn to social media for entertainment, breaking news, and general information. But as social media usage has increased exponentially over the years, research has documented growing concerns about social network addiction.
While the tech giants behind social media have invested millions in perfecting their products and attracting more followers, new social media addiction litigation seeks to hold businesses accountable for the real-world harm these apps may cause.
This year numerous lawsuits have been filed against social media companies, alleging that their algorithms have led children and adolescents to become addicted to social media. This addiction has led to the affected minors’ depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and psychological damage, including suicide and attempted suicide.
Lawsuits against Meta Platforms, Inc, Snap, Inc., TikTok Inc., and others have been initiated. Meta is the company that owns popular social media sites Facebook and Instagram.
The plaintiffs allege that these social media sites took advantage of these children’s and adolescents’ developing brains to purposefully design algorithms that cause children and adolescents to become addicted to social media sites. Plaintiffs allege that the social media companies failed to warn minors and their parents of the harmful addiction and knowingly operated an unsafe product.
In preparation for Meta lawsuits or suits against other social media giants, plaintiffs and attorneys should work with experienced experts who are already familiar with the litigation. Case Works supports law firms working on social media addiction litigation and other mass tort cases.
Update October 2022: Multidistrict Social Media Addiction Litigation Created in California
On October 6, 2022, a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the consolidation of 28 social media addiction lawsuits in the Northern District of California in multidistrict litigation (MDL). Additional cases may be added to the MDL.
The Panel conceded that the cases presented a common question of fact arising from the same allegations:
Social media sites “are defective because they are designed to maximize user screen time, which can encourage addictive behavior in adolescents.”
The social media “defendants were aware, but failed to warn the public, that their platforms were harmful to minors.”
All plaintiffs agree that the claims against Meta, which now is currently a defendant in all cases, share the same questions of fact, including whether Facebook and Instagram “encourage addictive behavior, fail to verify users’ ages, encourage adolescents to bypass parental controls, and inadequately safeguard against harmful content and/or intentionally amplify harmful and exploitive content.”
One issue considered during consolidation was whether to centralize cases with non-Meta defendants. Social media sites Snapchat (Snap), Tiktok and ByteDance (TikTok), and Youtube, Google, and Alphabet (YouTube) were included in the social media addiction lawsuits. Some are defendants in lawsuits with Meta. Others are defendants in lawsuits without Meta.
Snap, TikTok, and Youtube opposed their inclusion in the centralization. However, the Panel was unpersuaded by their arguments and declined to remand the cases to their original district courts. The Panel noted that the transferee judge had the tools to manage the cases and that all defendants would assert similar defenses. They concluded that bringing these cases together in the MDL efficiently delegated resources and promoted uniformity. As a result, Snapchat lawsuits and other suits against smaller social media sites are included with Meta lawsuits.
The Panel said it believed the MDL should include cases where Meta is not a defendant, but that issue would be considered later. The cases were consolidated and transferred to the Northern District of California, with U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers set to preside over the case.
Primary Allegations of Social Media Addiction Litigation
Social networks are no longer only an alternative way of communicating with friends but have permeated society. Public figures have found new platforms on social media. These figures — including actors, comedians, journalists, newscasters, musicians, athletes, and influencers — have found a new way to reach their fan base. Organizations, companies, and businesses have also joined the social media buzz. Even world leaders and other politicians use social media to reach their constituents.
Social media dominates the lives of younger individuals. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that 90% of teenagers (13 to 17 years old) have used social media, and 75% have an active social media profile. A 2022 study from the Pew Research Center found that YouTube is the most commonly used social media platform among teens, followed by TikTok, which has sharply jumped in popularity. Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook follow. Other social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Whatsapp maintain smaller popularity percentages.
The social media addiction lawsuits allege that these social media sites configure algorithms tailored to each user, ensuring that users see an endless stream of posts, videos, and photos designed to interest them. This concept promotes continuing engagement and clicks within the site, allowing more data collection to be added to the algorithm, creating a never-ending cycle.
Background on Social Media Addiction Lawsuits
Since the advent of MySpace in 2004, social media has transformed culture and the way people interact. This impact is not without its consequences. According to Pew Research, 54% of teens said it would be hard to give up social media. More than one-third (36%) of those teens conceded that they spend too much time on social media. As public understanding of this addiction has grown, so has the number of social media lawsuits.
The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm last December about the growing mental health crisis among children and adolescents. He said: “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade.”
The social media addiction lawsuits allege that social media sites are responsible for some of this. A tragic example is Rodriguez vs. MetaPlatforms, Snap, Inc., Tiktok, Inc., and ByteDance, Inc. In that case, Rodriguez sued the social media platforms on behalf of her daughter’s estate. She alleges that the social media platforms utilized complex algorithms that made her daughter addicted to social media. Her daughter constantly engaged with these apps, and when her internet devices were taken away, she would turn to other devices to access social media. Rodriguez’s daughter died by suicide at 11 years old.
Watch our Interview with Matthew Bergman
Susan Barfield interviewed Social Media Victims Law Center attorney Matthew Bergman to get a first-hand look at the emerging litigation involving social media addiction, Section 230, and parental rights.