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Denver Public Schools joins lawsuit against social media giants

Lawsuit alleges school districts have incurred costs through social media's impact on student mental health
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Posted at 8:13 AM, Sep 22, 2023

DENVER — The Denver Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to join a lawsuit against social media companies that alleges student mental health was negatively impacted by the companies.

The lawsuit — which is being prepared by four law firms, including Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP. out of Kansas City — will pursue damages against Meta, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Google on behalf of school districts like DPS.

Attorneys allege schools have incurred costs like hiring additional mental health providers, developing new lesson plans and hiring third parties to educate parents and students about the dangers of social media. The lawsuit claims Meta knew from their own research the negative impact social media has on young people. The attorneys also claim tech giants use psychological measures to keep kids on their apps as long as possible to drive advertising revenue.

DPS board members were particularly interested in recouping damages from content such as social media challenges that damage school property, swatting and violence.

Jena Doom, assistant professor of psychology at University of Denver, said while there is evidence of increased social media impacting young people, the data is not concrete and, in fact, is stronger in adults.

“We're seeing increased social media use being associated with things like anxiety, depression, loneliness. We also are seeing teens who are using social media in a more problematic way are also less likely to do things like sleep enough or get outside, exercise, hang out with family and friends,” Doom said.

Doom said the individual content is more harmful than the amount of time young people spend on social media.

“Self-harm content can be problematic, especially for certain teens who may be more vulnerable to that content — content such as things that promote negative body image or teens who are being bullied online,” Doom said.

The U.S. Surgeon General in May released a report warning of the “profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents." The report called for more regulation on social media companies in the way harmful toys are regulated and recalled.

Doom said parents need to be involved in monitoring the content their children consume.

“Trying to set limits and make sure that teens are still doing those healthy activities like getting outside, exercising, interacting with friends and family, sleeping that we know are really good for mental health,” she said.

DPS won’t have to pay any attorney fees by joining the lawsuit, but the law firms would get 33 percent of any settlement.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7, visit Colorado Crisis Services, or click here for a list of resources in Colorado.