Feb 14, 2024 - Technology

New York City sues social media companies for negligence, public nuisance

NYC Mayor Eric Adams pictured behind a podium

Mayor Eric Adams delivers remarks during Martin Luther King Day celebrations at the Covenant Baptist Church in the Harlem Section of Manhattan, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/NY Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

New York City filed a lawsuit against TikTok, Meta, Snap and Google's YouTube to hold the companies accountable "for fueling the nationwide youth mental health crisis," NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court by the City of New York, the New York Department of Education and New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, alleges that companies intentionally manipulate and addict younger users, keeping them on their platforms.

  • The lawsuit contains three counts per New York state laws: negligence, gross negligence and public nuisance.
  • The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, company behavior changes and financial damages.
  • Such conduct has been a financial burden and crisis for the city, the lawsuit alleges; impacting schools, hospitals and other communities. In a press conference, Adams described New York City teens who are constantly in despair, glued to their phones and doing poorly in school, and lacking social skills as a result of social media addiction.

What they're saying: "Our city is built on innovation and technology, but many social media platforms end up endangering our children's mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behavior," Adams said in a release.

  • "We're taking bold action on behalf of millions of New Yorkers to hold these companies accountable for their role in this crisis, and we're building on our work to address this public health hazard."
  • "This lawsuit and action plan are part of a larger reckoning that will shape the lives of our young people, our city, and our society for years to come."

Context: In the absence of new federal laws protecting children online, lawsuits aiming to hold tech accountable are growing more prevalent across the country, filed by school districts and groups of parents who say their children were harmed by social media.

  • Other theories lawsuits have used include the idea that tech knowingly makes defective products that harm children or cause addiction.
  • There's a lot of attention to flashy Capitol Hill hearings where tech executives get grilled by members of Congress about children's online safety, but new bills continue to languish, while lawsuits are a costly and tangible threat to companies' business models.

The other side: "We want teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online, and we have over 30 tools and features to support them and their parents. We've spent a decade working on these issues and hiring people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online," Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said.

  • "Providing young people with a safer, healthier experience online has always been core to our work," said Google spokesperson José Castañeda, "In collaboration with youth, mental health and parenting experts, we've built services and policies to give young people age-appropriate experiences, and parents robust controls. The allegations in this complaint are simply not true."
  • "TikTok has industry-leading safeguards to support teens' well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18, and more," a spokesperson for TikTok told Axios.
  • "Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends. Snapchat opens directly to a camera — rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling — and has no traditional public likes or comments. While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence," a Snap spokesperson said in a statement.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Snap.

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