PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In March 2020 — in the days leading up to Oregon’s first stay-at-home order in the pandemic — Brittney Doffing’s daughter turned 14.
“She was in volleyball. She was in track. She was in basketball. She did drama. I mean, she was very outgoing,” Doffing said. “Her birthday came around and she was really wanting a cell phone and I was really hesitant about it, but then I kind of broke down because she lost all connections with everybody through school and that’s how a lot of her friends interacted, through cell phones.”
Shortly after that, life as Doffing and her family knew it was turned upside down.
Her daughter developed an addiction to social media, specifically Instagram and Snapchat. The obsession, Doffing said, was and still is incredibly destructive.
“It happened very, very fast.”
“Anytime I try to take the phone,” Doffing told KOIN 6 News, “she would get very physical, violent, verbal with me, with her sisters. She would smash the phones so that I couldn’t review the content.”
‘We are in for a long, difficult fight’
Doffing, who lives in Ashland, found the Seattle-based law firm Social Media Victims Law Center and, with the help of attorney Matthew Bergman, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Oregon against Snapchat and Meta-owned Instagram on behalf of her teen daughter, claiming the social media companies are “responsible for causing and contributing” to the mental health crisis of her child and other children in the United States.
“We are in for a long, difficult fight, and the prospect of compensation is very long and far away,” Bergman said, “and is not what’s moving or motivating us to go forward.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 20, alleges that Meta has designed its products to be addictive and harmful to its users’ mental health and alleges Snapchat and Meta-owned Instagram is rife with “sexual exploitive content and acts” because of the social media platforms’ “refusal to verify identity and age for new users.”
The 31-page complaint said Doffing’s daughter has been hospitalized twice for psychiatric episodes triggered by Doffing’s attempt to take away or restrict the use of Instagram and Snapchat.
The suit claims Snapchat and Instagram generate profit based on the amount of time a user spends on the app and likens the design to a slot machine marketed toward teens. It also claims the companies use complex algorithms that are psychologically manipulative and that the companies “have progressively modified their products to promote problematic and excessive use that they know is indicative of addictive and self-destructive use.”
Attorney Bergman told KOIN 6 News, “Kids lack the emotional maturity and the neurologic maturity to respond appropriately to these kinds of stimuli.”
The filing states M.K. — as her daughter is referred to in the document — was also “messaged and solicited for sexual exploitive content and acts on numerous occasions” by users on these social platforms, and added these kinds of users “are encouraged to use these platforms to sexually solicit and abuse minors due to Defendants’ refusal to verify identity and age for new users.”
Sugar Daddies, Sugar Mamas
Doffing said it’s alarming how easy it is for sexual predators to use Instagram and Snapchat to groom minors.
“In her accounts there’s been grown women and men called Sugar Daddies and Sugar Mama accounts that send them money,” Doffing said. “I have a screenshot of one asking that they were going to send her, like, $2500 or something.”
She also said she caught her daughter exchanging messages with an older man on Snapchat. She reported that and other predatory behaviors to local police as well as the social media companies. But those efforts, she said, were useless.
“As a parent I’ve done so much. I reported the content, I’ve reported the messages and I get messages back saying it doesn’t violate their standards. You know?” she said. “Well, what is their standard at this point? You know, they can literally, you can go online and you can be whoever, whatever you want.”
KOIN 6 News has reached out to Meta and Snap, the respective parent companies of Instagram and Snapchat, for comment.
The filing comes on the heels of a wrongful death lawsuit also filed against Meta and Snapchat, this time involving the death of Selena Rodriguez, an 11-year-old Connecticut girl. The Washington Post reports Thursday’s filing claimed Rodriguez had an addiction to the social media platforms owned by the companies.
The lawsuit was also filed in part by the Social Media Victims Law Center.