Meta, ByteDance, Snap, and Google attempted to have many lawsuits against them rejected on the grounds that they were purposefully creating a child-addictive social media environment. But a US federal court has decided that the tech corporations will face trial and that the claims will not be dismissed.
According to a Reuters article, a US federal judge has ruled that Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet, and Snap must respond to a complaint alleging that their social media platforms have harmed children’s mental health.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the US District Court forcefully rejected the social media companies’ request to have many cases against them dismissed on the grounds that their platforms are considered “addictive” by minors.
Many school districts around the country have filed lawsuits against Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet, and Snap, claiming that these corporations are to blame for the psychological and physical harm that these firms have inflicted upon students.
Last month, forty-two US states simultaneously filed lawsuits against Meta, blaming Facebook and Instagram in particular for allegedly “profoundly altering the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans.” This decision covers “over 140 actions” filed against the firms in addition to individual lawsuits.
The ruling on Tuesday makes it abundantly evident that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat are not immune from liability in this case under the First Amendment or Section 230, which were intended to prevent internet platforms from being viewed as publishers of third-party information.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers stressed that while many of the plaintiffs’ claims deal with purported “defects” in the platforms, they do not come under the purview of “free speech or expression.” These include difficult account deletion procedures, insufficient parental restrictions, and the lack of “robust” age verification mechanisms.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers pointed out, “Addressing these defects would not require that defendants change how or what speech they disseminate,” offering examples such as parental notifications that could empower parents to limit their children’s access to the platform or engage in discussions about platform use with them.
Despite this, Judge Gonzalez Rogers dismissed some of the other identified “defects” protected under Section 230, such as setting limits on the amount of time spent on the platforms and features like offering a beginning and end to a feed, recommending children’s accounts to adults, and employing “addictive” algorithms.
Lead plaintiffs’ attorneys Lexi Hazam, Previn Warren, and Chris Seeger praised the ruling in a joint statement, calling it a “significant victory for the families that have been harmed by the dangers of social media.” They said that the decision disproves Big Tech’s argument that the harm done to its users is immune from prosecution under Section 230 or the First Amendment.
In response to the claims, José Castañeda, a Google official, said that the charges are “simply not true” and emphasized that the firm is committed to offering kids age-appropriate YouTube experiences that come with strong parental controls.
Although there have been many cases claiming that internet platforms contain “defective” features that hurt users, this decision may open the door for further safety claims. The ruling may make it more difficult for these digital behemoths to fight against legal responsibility claims for harm caused by social media platforms, even if it doesn’t definitively establish culpability.
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