In a setback for social media platforms, a federal judge Tuesday refused to dismiss a sprawling lawsuit alleging that Meta, Google, TikTok and Snapchat harmed teens.
The ruling, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, came in litigation brought by hundreds of teens and their families, as well as 140 school districts and dozens of state attorneys general. Their consolidated complaint largely centered on the theory that social media companies designed their services to be addictive, and then served minors with a broad array of potentially harmful material -- such as filtered photos that promote unrealistic aesthetic standards.
Among other claims, the complaint alleged that the social media companies are responsible under “products liability” theories -- meaning their products were dangerously defective, due to design features that made the services addictive -- and that the companies acted negligently.
The platforms urged Rogers to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage for numerous reasons. Among others, the companies said they were protected by both Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which immunizes web services from lawsuits over material posted by users -- and the First Amendment. Meta and the others argued that even though the complaint references allegedly addictive features of social media, such as recommendation algorithms, any injuries suffered by teens is linked to content posted by other users.
The platforms also argued that aside from Section 230, the First Amendment protects them from lawsuits over other users' speech.
Rogers said in her ruling that Section 230 and the First Amendment barred some of the claims, but not all of them. For instance, she said Section 230 barred claims over the platforms' use of recommendation algorithms, but not from claims that they failed to label filtered photos or warn users about the risks of addiction.
The ruling comes one month after a California state court judge separately allowed teens who said they suffered from eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other harms due to social media addiction to proceed with lawsuits against Meta, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube.
In that case, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl said the teens 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.