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Anne Arundel joins parade of school districts suing social media giants

Rachel Konieczny//August 25, 2023

Anne Arundel joins parade of school districts suing social media giants

By Rachel Konieczny

//August 25, 2023

Anne Arundel County Public Schools filed a lawsuit on Thursday against several social media companies, alleging their platforms have exacerbated  the mental health challenges faced by the district’s 85,000 students.  

In a statement, a spokesperson for Anne Arundel County Public Schools said the mental health dangers posed by social media use by youngsters places an increasingly large burden on the school system to provide mental health resources. Schools have been forced to divert funding meant for educational needs toward these services, the statement said.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Meta, Google, ByteDance and Snap Inc.—the parent companies behind Facebook and Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, respectively.

Anne Arundel is the latest Maryland school district to sue the social media giants. The Baltimore City school system, Montgomery County Public Schools, and the Carroll and Cecil counties school districts previously filed their own suits, to name a few, and a federal class-action lawsuit also has been filed.

The Anne Arundel complaint alleges the social media companies’ apps have created a youth mental health crisis, targeting “children as a core market, hooking kids on their addictive social media platforms.” The suit alleges that each company substantially contributed to the mental health crisis and details the impact of the mental health crisis on Anne Arundel County Public Schools students.

“Students in our district and across the nation are experiencing a growing mental health crisis because of social media companies and their addictive platforms,” Superintendent of Anne Arundel Schools Dr. Mark Bedell said. “Our focus with this lawsuit is ensuring the well-being of our students and providing them with a healthy learning environment.”

Bedell said social media companies must take responsibility for their role in the mental health crisis, which has made educating students “exponentially more difficult.”

The complaint demands a jury trial and asks for equitable relief to fund prevention education and treatment for excessive and problematic use of social media, in addition to awarding actual, compensatory, and punitive damages, among other relief.

In a joint brief in June, the social media companies wrote: “The alleged defects are inescapably linked to the publication of third-party content,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported that the companies said allowing such suits would open the floodgates to litigation, causing online services to avoid liability by drastically restricting the flow of information available on their platforms.

Meanwhile, Maryland legislators are working to combat and prevent what they say are the negative effects of social media use on youth. The proposed Maryland Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, or HB 901, aims to restrict data collection and profiling of children.

Del. C. T. Wilson, D-Charles, co-sponsor of HB 901, said the proposed legislation is meant to create a standard to prevent data mining.

“Social media is a marketing tool and children are nothing more than consumers,” Wilson said. “That’s not the way we want our children treated, especially with such negative and pejorative impacts on their mental health.”

Wilson said he is confident that the bill will be passed in next year’s legislative session.

Baird Mandalas Brockstedt & Federico of Baltimore represents Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in addition to co-lead counsel Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in the nationwide multidistrict litigation.

Matt Legg, one of the Baird Mandalas Brockstedt & Federico attorneys on the case, said schools have been at the forefront of battling the mental health crisis epidemic and have been forced to “bear the brunt of social media platforms’ negligence by increasing funding for counseling.”

“Our goal here is for school boards filing the lawsuits to change how social media companies operate, force them to maximize their efforts to safeguard students and also to receive funds to support the growing need for mental health supports,” Legg said.


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