New York City is suing social media companies for allegedly harming the mental health of children

The suit targets TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube.

NYC Government

After designating social media as a "public health hazard" in late January, New York City is now suing Meta, Google, Snap and TikTok for "fueling nationwide youth mental health crisis." Specifically, these companies face three counts in the lawsuit: public nuisance, negligence and gross negligence. The Mayor Eric Adams administration accuses TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube of "endangering our children's mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behavior."

These are allegedly achieved by way of harmful algorithms, gambling-like mechanisms and manipulation through reciprocity — making the user "feel compelled to respond to one positive action with another positive action." The city believes that there is a correlation between the increase in social media usage and the decline in local youth mental health over "more than a decade."

In response, Google and Meta told CNBC that they have always worked with youth safety experts and provided parental control tools. ByteDance's TikTok also highlighted some of its specific tools to Axios, namely age-restricted features, parental controls and an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18. However, none of the tech companies acknowledged the problematic features listed by the Adams administration.

This lawsuit follows a recent Senate hearing on online child safety, in which the CEOs of all the aforementioned tech companies (except Google) were present. In his opening remarks, Senator Lindsey Graham told the tech execs that "you have blood on your hands" — a reference to online child exploitations and cyberbullying that unfortunately led to deaths.

Through this case, the Adams administration wants these tech companies to pay up for the city's youth mental health services, which apparently cost more than $100 million each year. But ultimately, it's about forcing these tech giants to stop manipulating young users into addictive behavior, as well as to make policymakers place new federal laws that safeguard youth mental health on social platforms.

Before this New York City lawsuit, Meta already faces a similar case from 41 states back in October 2023, in which it was accused of misleading the public about the safety of its platform's "addictive" features. Meta, Snap, TikTok and Google were also sued in a multi-district litigation in 2022 for their addictive features that allegedly cause "emotional and physical harms, including death" to adolescents.

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