By Ben Rappaport
The Robeson County school district has joined a lawsuit against social media giants, claiming the companies are intentionally addictive and negatively impact students’ mental health.
Public Schools of Robeson County is one of 12 districts in North Carolina and 200 across the country to join the lawsuit against Meta, Google, ByteDance, and Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat. Other N.C. districts include Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Johnston, Moore, Union, Wayne and Wilson counties.
“American children are suffering an unprecedented mental health crisis fueled by Defendants’ addictive and dangerous social media products,” states the complaint, which was originally filed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education in August in U.S. District Court in North Carolina’s Western District.
The lawsuit says school districts are being forced to spend additional resources on students’ mental health because social media platforms are driving increases in anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.
A spokesperson for Robeson County schools said Tuesday the district would release a statement at a later date.
The goal of the lawsuit is to make social media platforms safer for children and to hold companies accountable for their detrimental impact on youth, Janet Ward Black and Emily Beeson of Ward Black Law in Greensboro previously told the Charlotte Observer. The attorneys are representing several of the North Carolina school districts in the case, including Robeson County.
Suicide rates among teens ages 13 to 17 have increased 57% over the past decade, and emergency room visits for anxiety disorders have increased 117% for teens, according to the lawsuit.
Suicides per 100,000 children increased from 1.1 in 2018 to 1.7 in 2022 in North Carolina, according to NC Child. More than one in five high school students said they have seriously considered attempting suicide, reported the nonprofit organization, which gave the state an “F” grade in April after examining 15 indicators of children’s health.
Robeson County currently has one children’s psychiatrist, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein is one of 42 state attorneys general who have filed additional litigation against Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, Threads and WhatsApp.
In response to the lawsuit from the school districts, Meta told the Christian Post in August that youth mental health is a “complex issue.” Meta cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, which suggest that several factors, including the aftermath of COVID-19, have affected young people’s mental health.
The lawsuit filed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education cited reports that social media companies deliberately design their products to be addicting for children. Social media algorithms can potentially influence students’ perceptions of their appearances, the lawsuit says.
Robeson County schools have also highlighted the potential harms of social media for students. “Social media can foster body image issues, create addiction-like patterns of use, promote products that are harmful or illegal for young audiences, and fuel destructive bullying,” reads a post on the district’s website.
In addition to encouraging parents to oversee their children’s online activities, the district uses Gaggle, a software that monitors student activity on school-provided computers and accounts.