Canadian school boards sue social media giants over effects on students | Social Media News

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Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram are addictive and have ‘rewired’ the way children learn, educators say.

Four major school boards in Canada have filed lawsuits against some of the world’s largest social media companies, alleging that the platforms have disrupted students’ learning and are highly addictive for children.

The school boards, which are seeking about $2.9bn (four billion Canadian dollars) in damages, said the social media platforms have been “negligently designed for compulsive use, [and] have rewired the way children think, behave and learn”.

Students are experiencing “an attention, learning, and mental health crisis because of prolific and compulsive use of social media products”, the boards said in a statement on Thursday.

The legal claims were filed separately but all identify Meta Platforms Inc, as the defendant; Meta is the parent company of Facebook and Instagram; Snap Inc, which runs Snapchat, and TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance Ltd.

“The influence of social media on today’s youth at school cannot be denied,” said Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education at the Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in Canada and one of the four involved in the legal claims.

“It leads to pervasive problems such as distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, a rapid escalation of aggression, and mental health challenges. Therefore, it is imperative that we take steps to ensure the well-being of our youth,” she said in the statement.

Three other school boards involved in the lawsuits are Peel District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

Several studies have shown that platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be addictive and their prolonged use can lead to anxiety and depression.

In May 2023, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said, “There is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”

Murthy said children are exposed to violent and sexual content on social media platforms, as well as bullying and harassment, and their exposure to the platforms can lead to a lack of sleep and cut them off from their friends and family.

As many as 95 percent of children aged 13 to 17 said they used social media, according to a statement from the surgeon general last year, while a third said they used social media “almost constantly”.

“We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address,” Murthy said.

Thirty-three US states also sued Meta last year, alleging that its products cause mental health issues among young children and teenagers.

snapchat
A spokesperson for Snapchat says the platform was designed to be different from other social media platforms [File: Richard Drew/AP Photo]

Meanwhile, in Canada, a spokesperson for Snap Inc told Canadian media outlets that Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from other platforms.

“Snapchat opens directly to a camera — rather than a feed of content — and has no traditional public likes or comments,” the spokesperson said, as reported by CBC News.

“While we always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as to face the many challenges of adolescence.”

Asked about the lawsuit at a news conference on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he disagreed with the school boards’ effort.

“Let’s focus on the core values of education. Let’s focus on math and reading and writing, that’s what we need to do: put all the resources into the kids,” he told reporters.

“Let’s focus on the kids, not about this other nonsense that they’re looking to fight in court.”

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