Updated Mar 28, 2024 - Technology

Four Canadian school boards sue TikTok, Meta and Snapchat

Toronto District School Board sign

Toronto District School Board sign in October 2023. Photo: Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Four Canadian school boards announced Thursday that they are suing TikTok, Meta and Snapchat for allegedly disrupting student learning and harming the education system.

Why it matters: The Ontario school boards join a growing number of U.S. school districts that are taking legal action against social media giants, as an expanding body of research shows how social media harms youth mental health.

Driving the news: The Toronto District School Board, the Peel District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have each filed their own lawsuit against the social media platforms.

  • "Students are experiencing an attention, learning, and mental health crisis because of prolific and compulsive use of social media products," according to a joint press release the school boards issued Thursday.
  • The Toronto District School Board wrote in its statement of claim that "the Defendants have knowingly and/or negligently disrupted and fundamentally changed the school, learning and teaching climate."

By the numbers: The school boards are seeking a combined $4.5 billion in damages, the Toronto Star reported.

  • The Toronto District School Board is seeking $1.6 billion, according to its statement of claim, which the district shared with Axios.
  • The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is seeking more than $450 million across those same categories, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

What they're saying: "Urgent action is needed to protect students from further harm. That is why we have come together in bringing action against social media giants," Rashmi Swarup, director of education at the Peel District School Board, said in the press release.

The other side: A Meta spokesperson told Axios that the company has introduced "well over 30 tools and features" to help teens and parents navigate teens' experiences on their platforms.

  • "Snapchat opens directly to a camera – rather than a feed of content – and has no traditional public likes or comments," a Snap spokesperson told Axios in a statement.
  • "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," they added.
  • TikTok did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on Thursday.

Zoom out: Last year, Seattle Public Schools sued social media companies including TikTok and Meta over their role in the youth mental health crisis.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Ashley Gold: Similar to suits in the U.S. aiming to hold social media firms accountable by trying out different legal theories and seeing what might work, this Canadian one may be more successful due to stricter tech laws.

  • But it will still be tough to win in court.

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Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from a Snap Inc. spokesperson.

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