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NC School Districts' Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies: Implications and Complexities


North Carolina's second-largest school system is suing social media companies for harming students' mental health.

In a statement last Friday, the attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board said social media companies like Meta, Snapchat, and TikTok intentionally design their platforms to get young users addicted and exploit their developing minds for profit. The litigation seeks to force companies to fully address platform harms.

On last night's podcast, EFA invited Cornell law professor Bill Jacobson to provide insights into these lawsuits. He highlighted the complexities involved in establishing causation and liability.

Professor Jacobson and EFA president Sloan Rachmuth discussed comparisons between social media lawsuits and vape lawsuits.

While tobacco products are inherently damaging, social media affects individuals differently. He notes that the lawsuits are speculative and the courts will have to determine the validity of the claims.

These lawsuits are similar to class action suits alleging defective products, and one of the challenges is quantifying social media damages. For instance, in the case of vaping, the plaintiffs' attorneys argued that the product caused nicotine addiction, thus leading to economic and medical costs that should be compensated.

Rachmuth raised the concern about blaming social media for Charlotte-Mecklenburg's school's shortcomings and suggested that the lawsuit may be a way to shift blame. Jacobson acknowledges this and suggests that the lawsuit defense may involve addressing these factors.

The Charlotte lawsuit is similar to around 200 others across the country.

The districts blame the tech giants for worsening mental health and behavioral disorders and making it harder to educate students. Districts argue that social media companies use persuasive design techniques to keep children glued to their products. As a result, students are allegedly more distracted at school, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression are on the rise.

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