Jun 28, 2023 - News

Colorado school district targets social media companies in lawsuit

Illustration of rows of pills, some with emoji reactions.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

TikTok and Meta are under fire from a new foe.

What’s happening: Aspen School District filed a federal lawsuit this month against the social media companies and others, citing concerns about their impact on youth mental health.

Why it matters: The legal challenge — one of more than 40 filed by school districts nationwide — is being compared to the blockbuster lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry in 1999.

What they're saying: "Our kids are really hurting these days, and social media has really set up their platforms to kind of hook the kids and really just get them addicted to social media," Aspen superintendent Dave Baugh told Colorado Public Radio.

  • "We feel like it's taken a lot of our time and energy to try to help kids navigate that, to manage it and to recover from it."

The other side: Social media companies have responded by emphasizing their safety features or declined to comment on the litigation.

Between the lines: A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General and whistleblower testimony before Congress are increasing awareness of how social media impacts mental health, but it's not a settled topic.

Zoom in: In a conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, advocates for regulation warned of social media's addictive nature and how it affects children, citing studies showing it contributes to depression, loneliness and drug use.

  • "Social media is having a tobacco moment in our society, and it's about time," said Jim Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, an advocacy organization.

Yes, but: Candice Odgers, a psychologist and researcher, said the science is not conclusive that social media is to blame. The association is indistinguishable from other pressures, which is acknowledged in the surgeon general's report but being overlooked, she argued.

  • "Social media use does not predict future mental health problems," she said.

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