PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A small Oregon school district is taking on the Goliath of social media companies, claiming they’re contributing to youth mental health problems.
The Gervais School District claims social media continues to hurt their students from self-esteem and mental health issues to cyber bullying and threats, so they want change. The district is suing Facebook and Instagram, (as well as their parent company Meta), Snapchat, TikTok, Google and YouTube on behalf of their 1,500 students and others.
“These techniques are both particularly effective and harmful to the youth audience,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendants have intentionally cultivated, creating a mental health crisis among America’s youth.” The suit also states “the pandemic and corresponding increase in time youth spend on Defendants’ platforms has only intensified this crisis.”
The one company not part of the lawsuit is Twitter. Stevens KOIN 6 News while the decision to exclude them was made by the attorneys, it’s also not a platform really used by their students.
“The real issue is it’s never ending. It’s a 24/7 constant barrage of social media platforms,” said Gervais School District Superintendent Dandy Stevens.
As for how that can be fixed, Stevens said changing the way they target teens is a start.
“Them ceasing the creation of algorithms that specifically target our kids and really perpetuate negative behaviors” is one way, said Stevens.
Beyond issues like cyber bullying, the district said they’ve also run into problems with school threats made online and vandalism from social media challenges.
KOIN 6 News reached out to all of the companies listed in the lawsuit. Two responded in time for this report.
A spokesperson for Google responded to the suit: “We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their wellbeing. For example, through Family Link, we provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices.”
A Snapchat spokesperson also released a statement:
“Nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community. At Snapchat, we curate content from known creators and publishers and use human moderation to review user generated content before it can reach a large audience, which greatly reduces the spread and discovery of harmful content. We also work closely with leading mental health organizations to provide in-app tools for Snapchatters and resources to help support both themselves and their friends. We are constantly evaluating how we continue to make our platform safer, including through new education, features and protections.”
As the fight is only beginning, Stevens said the district will live up to its informal motto of “small, but mighty.”
“If a small district who is willing to say ‘This is enough, we’ve had enough,’ and that we are willing to take on the challenge and try to create a solution for this, we are kind of blazing the trail, hoping other districts will come alongside us and call for this accountability,” said Stevens. “They are all of our children and we are responsible and required to protect them as best we can. If nothing else, showing kids that when you stand up and do what’s right, it’s hard, but it’s important.”