Parents are suing social media companies like Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) for knowingly causing their children to become addicted to harmful online content. Here are five key things to know about the current social media addiction lawsuits:
- Social media companies design their algorithms to maximize engagement at the expense of users’ mental health.
- Meanwhile, these companies provide inadequate parental controls and make it easy for children to bypass age and identify verifications.
- Parents are seeking reimbursement for psychiatric care and pain and suffering in addition to hefty punitive damages.
- Most of the lawsuits are being filed in San Francisco, where many of the social media giants are headquartered.
- The lawsuits are currently proceeding individually through the courts, though at some point they may be consolidated into an MDL or class action.
In this article, our mass tort attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is the status of the social media addiction lawsuits?
- 2. What money can I win if I sue?
- 3. Aren’t parents to blame for social media addiction?
- 4. What are the symptoms of social media addiction?
- 5. How long do I have to sue?
- 6. Do I need an attorney?
1. What is the status of the social media addiction lawsuits?
Currently there are hundreds of lawsuits brought by parents against the social media giants
- Instagram and Facebook (owned by Meta),
- TikTok (owned by ByteDance Ltd.),
- Snapchat (owned by Snap, Inc.),
- Twitter (owned by X Corp.), and/or
- Youtube (owned by Google).
The lawsuit that has received the most attention is Spence v. Meta, which alleges that Instagram’s algorithm fed then-11-year-old Alexis a steady stream of harmful anorexia content that resulted in her being committed to a psychiatric facility at one point.1
In addition, hundreds of school districts are suing social media companies for causing their students anxiety and depression.2
1.1. Are the lawsuits class actions or individual?
At this point, the social media addiction lawsuits are proceeding individually in courts throughout the United States. Though at some point, they may be consolidated into a class action or multi-district litigation to speed up the settlement process.
1.2. What are the legal grounds?
Our social media addiction lawyers are alleging three primary causes of action against the social media companies:
- They created a defective product that posed foreseeable dangers, namely becoming addicted.
- They failed to warn users about addiction risks through a lack of instructions, disclaimers, and other safeguards.
- They were negligent in their duty to create a safe product that they knew a vulnerable population (young adults) would be using.3
In addition, we allege that the social media companies violated California’s Unfair Competition Law through deceptive business practices that concealed their products’ addictive qualities.4
2. What money can I win if I sue?
Social media addiction attorneys are pursuing the following compensatory damages for victims:
- medical bills, including for psychologists, medication, and inpatient treatment
- loss of past and future earnings, especially for parents who had to miss work to help their children through their addiction treatments
- pain and suffering, which is often the highest cost
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are also seeking punitive damages to punish Meta, etc., because they purposely designed their algorithm to maximize engagement, even if it meant compromising users’ mental health. The social media companies knew they were harming young adults.5
In the most severe cases where social media addiction has driven a user to suicide or to die from a dangerous internet challenge, family members can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in pursuit of burial and funeral expenses in addition to the aforementioned damages.
3. Aren’t parents to blame for their kids’ social media addiction?
No. Academic studies as well as the social media companies’ own internal documentation show that the algorithms are specifically marketed to young adults and designed to maximize engagement, even if it means feeding harmful content to users that trigger addictions. Then while doing this, the social media companies:
- provide woefully inadequate parental controls and monitoring;
- fail to notify parents if their children are consuming problematic content or are online for too long; and
- provide inadequate safeguards to verify users’ ages and identities.
This all but ensures that children will find a way to access these platforms despite their parents’ efforts to shield them. Parents do not stand a chance against the social contagions peddled by social media.6
3.1. The Facebook Whistleblower
Former Meta (formerly Facebook) employee Frances Haugen became a whistleblower in 2021 when she testified before a U.S. Senate Committee about how Meta knew about the harm it was inflicting on young people and took no measures to stop it. For example, she claimed, “Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content.”
As evidence, Haugen presented a 2020 slide presentation that appeared on Facebook’s internal message board, which said:
“Thirty-two percent of girls under the age of 26 said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
Yet instead of steering vulnerable users away from the content that depleted their self-worth, Instagram‘s feeds, reels, stories, and explore features kept stoking users’ body dysmorphia.
Social media is difficult enough for adults to navigate safely. Meanwhile young adults – whose brains are not yet fully formed – are having their neural pathways physically rewired through their social media feed’s vicious cycle of dopamine hits and crashes.7
4. What are the symptoms of social media addiction?
Ten common symptoms of social media addiction – particularly among tweens and teens – include:
- Always checking your social media feeds, even during live social activities or when you should be working.
- Constantly comparing yourself to the images and stories you see on social media and feeling “less than” and envious.
- Consistently choosing to spend more time on social media at the expense of being with friends and pursuing hobbies you once enjoyed (“social isolation).
- Feelings of irritability and panic when you are unable to access social media.
- A baseline mood of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and/or suicidal ideations with or without self-harm.
- Engaging in risky internet challenges and submitting to online peer pressure.
- Planning your day and activities in anticipation of sharing your photos and thoughts on social media.
- Experiencing “highs” from likes, shares, and positive engagements, and feeling “lows” otherwise.
- Judging your self-worth from how your peers react to you on social media.
- Lying, stealing, or taking other transgressive measures to access social media when your phone is taken away by parents or other authority figures.
Parents who believe their children are falling prey to social media addiction are encouraged to find experienced psychologists.
Treatment may include limiting or eliminating any screen time not related to schoolwork. In serious cases where social media addiction victims became clinically ill such as with anorexia or severe depression, inpatient treatment may be necessary.8
5. How long do I have to sue?
Statutes of limitation vary from state to state and depend on the specific claims, though in some cases it can be as short as one or two years after being injured. Therefore, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your case is not dismissed based on being too stale.
6. Do I need an attorney?
Social media giants like Meta have an army of litigators paid hourly to bury you in paperwork and legal fees. Victims and their families need a strong legal team to face down these bullies.
Our social media addiction attorneys will take care of your entire case, including
- compiling all relevant evidence, including medical records, social media usage reports, etc.
- writing and filing all legal paperwork and responding to the defendants’ motions and counter-motions, and
- engaging in strategic and aggressive negotiation sessions in attempt to secure you the largest settlement possible under the law.
You and your children can never get back the years lost to social media addiction. Instead, we demand that the at-fault parties like Meta apologize in the only way that matters to them – through their bottomless financial resources.
Since we take no money unless we win your case, suing Social Media poses no risk to you.
- Spence v. Meta Platforms Inc. Complaint For Personal Injuries, Jury Demand, United States District Court Northern District Of California San Francisco Division (June 6, 2022)(“This product liability action seeks to hold Defendant Meta’s Instagram product responsible for causing and contributing to burgeoning mental health crisis perpetrated upon the children and teenagers of the United States by Meta and, specifically for the injuries it caused Alexis Spence beginning in 2013, when Alexis was only eleven years old. Those injuries, proximately caused by Meta’s unreasonably dangerous Instagram social media product, include but are not limited to, addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation.“).
- William Westhoven, Chatham schools lawsuit claims ‘callous’ social media causing rising depression, Daily Record (February 23, 2023)(“The lawsuit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, names the parent companies of Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Google and YouTube as plaintiffs and stated their deceptive business practices have created a ‘public nuisance’ that is harming students. Deceptive practices by those companies, the lawsuit alleges, are designed to ‘ruthlessly extract every dollar possible with callous disregard for the harm to mental health.'”). Tim Tooten, Carroll County Public Schools to join class-action lawsuit against social media companies, WBAL TV (Apr 12, 2023)(“The law firm working with Carroll County expects to represent more than 1,000 school districts over the next few months.”). Kristen Taketa, Schools’ suit claims social media companies are fueling a youth mental health crisis, Los Angeles Times (April 14, 2023)(“Oceanside and Coronado Unified are joining a growing number of school districts nationwide in suing the country’s largest social media companies, arguing that their content algorithms and platform designs are addicting children and teens and have caused worsening anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The two San Diego County districts are among 16 districts that filed suit against more than a dozen social media companies Wednesday in San Francisco federal court. The defendants include the tech companies that run Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, WhatsApp, YouTube and Google. The National City and Ramona districts are also plaintiffs in the suit.”). Kelly, S.M., Seattle public schools sue social media companies for allegedly harming students’ mental health, CNN.com (January 9, 2023)(“Seattle’s public school system on Friday filed a lawsuit against several Big Tech companies alleging their platforms have a negative impact on students’ mental health and claiming that has impeded the ability of its schools ‘to fulfill its educational mission.’ The lawsuit was filed against the parent companies of some of the most popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube.”).
- Spence v. Meta Platforms Inc. Complaint For Personal Injuries, Jury Demand, United States District Court Northern District Of California San Francisco Division (June 6, 2022)(“Meta owes a heightened duty of care to minor users of its social media product because adolescents’ brains are not fully developed, which results in a diminished capacity to make good decisions regarding their social media usages, eschew self-destructive behaviors, and overcome emotional and psychological harm from negative and destructive social media encounters. As a product manufacturer marketing and selling products to consumers, Meta owed a duty to exercise ordinary care in the manufacture, marketing, and sale of its product, including a duty to warn minor users and their parents of hazards that Meta knew to be present, but not obvious, to underage users and their parents.“).
- Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200.
- For example, see note 1.
- Facebook knew Instagram was pushing girls to dangerous content: internal document, CBS News (December 11, 2022)(“A previously unpublished internal document reveals Facebook, now known as Meta, knew Instagram was pushing girls to dangerous content. In 2021, according to the document, an Instagram employee ran an internal investigation on eating disorders by opening a false account as a 13-year-old girl looking for diet tips. She was led to graphic content and recommendations to follow accounts titled ‘skinny binge’ and ‘apple core anorexic.’ Other internal memos show Facebook employees raising concerns about company research that revealed Instagram made 1-in-3 teen girls feel worse about their bodies, and that teens who used the app felt higher rates of anxiety and depression.”). Sarah Miller, The Addictiveness of Social Media: How Teens Get Hooked, Jefferson Health (June 2, 2022)(“A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that teens who use social media more than three hours per day may be at heightened risk for mental health problems….Studies have shown that social media has a powerful effect on the brain, and it can create stimulating effects similar to addiction. Once the brain experiences these rushes of dopamine and pleasure, the high from social media becomes harder and harder for anyone to resist, creating patterns of addictive behavior.”). Ricci, J. (2018, June 28). The Growing Case for Social Media Addiction, CSU (June 28, 2018)(“Dr. Turel rese
arches behavioral and managerial issues in technology-focused environments, including how people become pathologically addicted to technology; he estimates that five to 10 percent of Americans could meet the criteria for being at risk for social media addiction.”). Radesky, J. & Moreno, M. (2022, July 28). Social Media Design: 4 Things Parents Need to Know, HealthyChildren.org (July 28, 2022)(“Research has found that algorithms can ‘pigeon-hole’ users into feeds dominated by self-harm, eating disorder content or biased posts. Social media posts that are the most extreme – in terms of beauty, sexiness, violence or humor, for example – tend to get the most ‘engagement.’ Because of this, they are then amplified in users’ recommendation feeds. This may lead to teens seeing more unrealistic views of beauty, wealth or behavior.”)
- Statement of Frances Haugen, Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security (October 4, 2021). Pitofsky, M., Facebook officials knew Instagram can have negative mental health impact for teens, report claims, USA Today (September 14, 2021)(“Top Facebook officials were aware that Instagram, the popular photo-based social media platform that it owns, can have a negative impact on mental health, body image and more for teenagers, particularly teenage girls, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Researchers who work for the social media giant found that some of the problems were specific to Instagram and not social media as a whole for teens, according to the Journal. ‘Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers shared in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by the Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.'”). Gripenstraw, K., Our Social Media Addiction, Harvard Business Review (December 2022)(“In another new book, Digital Madness, the psychologist Nicholas Kardaras explains that the people behind Facebook and Instagram not only designed their platforms to be wildly addictive but have kept them that way even amid mounting evidence that social media overuse has a horrible effect on people’s mental and physical well-being. (The same is true for Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and most other social media.) One study that Kardaras cites found that university students who used social media for more than three hours each school day suffered from poor sleep and poor academic performance. They also had much higher rates of depression, substance abuse, stress, and suicide. Why? One likely culprit is too much false social comparison: In online posts, photos, and videos, the grass always seems greener elsewhere.”). Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E., Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa, Eat Weight Disord. (March 1, 2017)(“Higher Instagram use was associated with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa, with no other social media channel having this effect. In exploratory analyses Twitter showed a small positive association with orthorexia symptoms. BMI and age had no association with orthorexia nervosa. The prevalence of orthorexia nervosa among the study population was 49%, which is significantly higher than the general population (<1%).”). O’Sullivan, D. et al. Instagram promoted pages glorifying eating disorders to teen accounts, CNN.com (October 4, 2021)(“Proof that Instagram is not only failing to crack down on accounts promoting extreme dieting and eating disorders, but actively promotes those accounts, comes as Instagram and its parent company Facebook (FB) are facing intense scrutiny over the impact they have on young people’s mental health. Instagram acknowledged to CNN this weekend that those accounts broke its rules against the promotion of extreme dieting, and that they shouldn’t have been allowed on the platform.”).
- For example, see Rosemary Hedgwick et. al., Social media, internet use and suicide attempts in adolescents, Curr Opin Psychiatry (November 2019)(“An independent direct association was found between heavy social media/internet use and increased suicide attempts in seven studies[.]”). Melissa G. Hunt, et. al., No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (December 2018)(“Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”). Pecot, E, Social Media Platforms Profit from Damage to Teens, New Jersey State Bar Foundation (January 21, 2022)(“Instagram’s internal slide presentation ‘Teen Mental Health Deep Dive,’ which was leaked by The Wall Street Journal, shows the platform’s image-based core feature encourages users to display only the best version of their lives, leading to unrealistic expectations for teens. Instagram’s own research and surveys of young users found ‘32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.’ Further internal research revealed that among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, six percent of American users linked those thoughts with their Instagram use. Internal documents from 2018 obtained by The New York Times revealed that Instagram was afraid of losing the teenage market to other apps…Taking it a step further, advertisers were encouraged to create ads intended for the early high school category but making them appeal to even younger children.”). Elsesser, K., Here’s How Instagram Harms Young Women According To Research, Forbes (October 5, 2021)(“‘Researchers have known for years that social media has a negative impact on how young women feel about themselves,’ says Jennifer Mills is a professor of psychology at York University who has completed her own research on this topic.”). Riehm, K. E. et al., Associations Between Time Spent Using Social Media and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth, In this cohort study of 6595 US adolescents, increased time spent using social media per day was prospectively associated with increased odds of reporting high levels of internalizing and comorbid internalizing and externalizing problems, even after adjusting for history of mental health problems…Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.”).