Lawsuit Against Facebook, Instagram & Social Media Websites Allege Use Linked to Youth Self Harm (August 2023 Update)
December 2023 Facebook, Instagram & Social Media Harm Lawsuits Update:
As the social media addiction multi-district litigation (MDL) progresses, there are two notable developments in the timeline. The first was the passing of the initial deadline for filing the motion to dismiss in June, which went by without any filings. The second is an upcoming deadline on August 15, 2003, specifically pertaining to the Motion to Dismiss on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment.
Section 230 has emerged as an essential legal aspect of this case, as it grants immunity to internet-based companies such as Meta, TikTok, and Snapchat from being held liable for third-party content. This provision has been utilized in various legal scenarios, including negligence cases, establishing a precedent that may influence the ongoing litigation.
The anticipation surrounding the defense strategy is high, with many legal experts speculating that Section 230 will play a central role. The statute's previous applications in similar cases suggest that it could be cited as part of the defense's approach, adding an additional layer of complexity to the proceedings.
As popular social media platforms grow in audience, so do the statistics of children and teens committing acts of self-harm and suicide from social media affecting their mental health.
Social media offers a wealth of information, with suicide and other acts of self-harm among trending searches. In a study analyzing those in their teens or young adults, 59% reported being exposed to suicide or self-harm content through the internet and social media sources.
As the number of children and teens being exposed to self-harm or suicidal ideation increases, so does the importance of holding social media platforms allowing this content to be held accountable.
Social Media Suicidal and Self-Harm Content
With the creation of YouTube in 2005 for long-form content came a trickle of short-form content on apps like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and more. Among these picture and video-sharing apps comes the overwhelming amount of opinions being shared in regard to being for or against self-harm and suicide.
While there is a large amount of content for educational or self-help purposes regarding the topics, it is a major concern that content concerning self-harm and suicide is reinforcing these behaviors in to those that are susceptible to it: primarily children and teens.
Within these different social media platforms comes the formation of different communities within them. Pro-anorexia, pro-cutting, pro-suicide, and more self-harm groups all to have been found to support, encourage, and give tips on how to further progress their mental illness or ideations.
Self-generated content speaking of one’s own encounters and thoughts with self-harm or suicide has been seen by some as a way to normalize and encourage others to talk about how they feel, but it’s also conversely a trigger to those who are naive to such topics.
Social Media and the Decline of Mental Health
A 2019 study found that as the usage of social media rises with adolescent girls, so do the suicide rates for this age group and gender.
The adolescent group as a whole is rising in social media usage and suicide rates as well compared to their older generation counterparts. The endless and continuous stream of new content and information generated daily on a number of topics has led to adolescents becoming more susceptible to: self-comparison, self-harm, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more. With one scroll, tap, click, or like, the mental health of those in this adolescent age group is on the decline.
The pandemic also has led to more adolescents creating a more substantial online presence in order to connect with their peers, for their education, and for entertainment. While some social media spaces were a safe haven for those struggling with their mental health, other spaces of social media only exacerbated the problem.
With more of an online presence on any social media platform to connect with others comes the risk of social isolation. The ability to converse with others online at your own convenience and with your option of anonymity presents an increased exposure of adolescents to harm, bullying, and depressive symptoms. These isolating and depressive tendencies stemming from the use of multiple social media platforms is the direct gateway into a dramatic decline in one’s mental health - especially those of the adolescent age group.
The Effects of Cyber-bullying
Social media has also become a new outlet for a new form of bullying and harassment. Most prevalent among adolescents, especially female adolescents, cyber-bullying and cybervictimization has lead to suicidal ideations, attempts, and plans.
In a study conducted over a five-year period, 46.3% of adolescents were found to be involved in cyberbullying preparation, while 57.5% were the targets of cyberbullying victimization. The immediate contact one can have with another on social media with their choice of hiding behind a screen led to an uptick in violence online being presented verbally. Not only can one remain completely anonymous if they choose to do so on social media, but there are also no boundaries geographically, which raises the number of people who could be victimized.
The delicate time of one’s growth during their adolescent years also comes with the comfortability of risk taking without knowing exact consequences. This high sense of risk taking has also led to new forms of cyberbullying such as cyberstalking and online dating abuse. In a psychological sense, cyberbullying has been shown to have more damage on one’s mental state than traditional in-person bullying. Greater levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness were reported for victims of any form of cyberbullying.
Indicators of Self-Harm or Suicidal Ideation
The higher level of physiological pain that cyberbullying and social media use has on a child can lead to harm in the form of self-harm or suicidal ideation. The National Institute of Mental Health declares the following as behavioral and mental warning signs to look out for regarding those planning to commit suicide:
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
- Talking of unbearable emotional or physical pain
Behavioral changes such as:
- Making a plan or researching ways to die
- Withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items, or making a will
- Taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Eating or sleeping more or less
- Using drugs or alcohol more often
If you or someone you know is currently displaying these symptoms or talking about suicide, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.
Important Studies Regarding Social Media and Suicide
A study from the University of Utah found that young adults who are avidly using social media are three times more likely to suffer from depression, leading to suicidal actions or ideation.
A study conducted by Brigham Young University over a 10-year period showed that adolescent and teenage girls spending upwards of two to three hours of social media per day were at a greater risk of suicide as they developed into young adults. The study concurred that this is also in part to girls’ being more susceptible to negative social media habits due to their social tendencies.
In a 2019 study, it was found that adolescents who were on the receiving end negative Instagram comments and other negative feedback from social media platforms were more likely to commit acts of self-harm or suicidal ideation.
Legal Rights of Children Affected by Social Media
If your child has been affected by social media to the point of self-harm or suicidal tendencies, then you may have legal rights to compensation. Filing a lawsuit against the social media platforms enabling this behavior to affect minors can help to recover financial damages for you and your loved ones.
Elements of a Successful Social Media Lawsuit
The foundation of a successful lawsuit against large social media platforms starts with bridging the link between the harm it has caused your child and the lack of protection the platform failed to provide. Claims can also be made toward any processes on the app that led to any harm, harassment, or attempted suicide of an adolescent.
The acts of self-harm or mental health decline that can be included in the lawsuit include, but are not limited to:
- Eating disorder
- Sexual exploitation
Compensation Stemming From a Social Media Lawsuit
If filing a wrongful death lawsuit from social media succeeds, financial compensations can be recovered. This financial compensation can assist with the families and loved ones of minors who have been harmed by social media enabling their child to perform self-harm or suicide.
Examples of Social Media Lawsuits Filed
Tammy Rodriguez, is the mother of Selena Rodriguez, her 11-year old daughter who committed suicide after being driven to do so by the dangerous landscape of platforms Meta and Snap.
In her lawsuit, Rodriguez claimed that the platform giants responsible for Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat had dangerous features that led to severe mental harm leading to suicide.
The addiction of these apps became overwhelmingly prevalent and increasingly concerning as Selena’s mental health declined, causing a dramatic withdrawal from real life. The dependency that was formed with these apps enabled Selena to view dangerous content that was not monitored by the social media platforms, allowing children of her age to view the malicious material.
How to Proceed Using Social Media
When using social media, especially when allowing those in the adolescent to young adult age group access to it, it’s important to monitor their mental health state consistently.
Consciously being aware of the signs of self-harm and suicidal ideation can be the biggest sign to seek your loved one help from professionals and decrease time spent on social media platforms causing distress.