Teens Can Sue Platforms Over Social Media Addiction, Judge Rules

Teens who say they suffered from eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other harms as a result of their social media addiction can proceed with lawsuits against Meta, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, a state court judge in California ruled.

In an opinion issued Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl threw out most claims raised by the teens, but said they could move forward with a claim that the companies were negligent because they used features like continuous scrolling, aimed at maximizing the amount of time people spend on social media.

The litigation in front of Kuhl is similar to a case pending in federal court in the Northern District of California. In that litigation, teens and their families -- as well as numerous school districts -- contend that social media platforms designed their services to be addictive, then served minors with potentially harmful content originally posted by other users.

The social media platforms argued in both the federal and state cases they are protected from liability by the First Amendment as well as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.



In general, the First Amendment shields companies from lawsuits over lawful speech (including content that could be considered harmful, such as posts about eating disorders or drug use), while Section 230 immunizes web companies from liability over material posted by users, including speech that's defamatory or otherwise unlawful.

The companies specifically say Section 230 applies because any harm suffered by the teens was caused by user-created content, such as pro-dieting posts.

Kuhl appeared to reject that argument, at least at this relatively early stage of the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs allege they were injured by features of defendants' platforms that were designed to, and did in fact, maximize use of the platforms in ways leading to minors' addiction and resulting health consequences,” she wrote.

“The features themselves allegedly operate to addict and harm minor users of the platforms regardless of the particular third-party content viewed by the minor user,” she added.

The Chamber of Progress, a policy group funded by the tech industry, disagrees.  

The ruling “fundamentally misunderstands Section 230,” Chris MacKenzie, communications director for the organization.

He adds that Section 230 “has always protected the operation of publishing third-party content.”

Google spokesperson José Castañeda stated that the lawsuit's underlying allegations “are simply not true.”

“Protecting kids across our platforms has always been core to our work. In collaboration with child development specialists, we have built age-appropriate experiences for kids and families on YouTube, and provide parents with robust controls,” he stated.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers Rogers, who presides over the federal litigation, is expected to hold a hearing in that matter October 27.

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