The San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo Superintendent of Schools File Landmark Suit Against Social Media Companies


Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP filed suit this week on behalf of the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools over the youth-targeting business practices of Defendant social media companies, YouTube Inc. (and related companies, Alphabet Inc., XXVI Holdings Inc., Google LLC), Snap Inc., and TikTok Inc. (and related company, ByteDance Inc.)

As noted by President Biden in his recent 2023 State of the Union address, social-media companies must be held accountable “for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.” Indeed, the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools are seeking to do just that – they seek to hold Defendants accountable for the extensive harm being wrought on our local schools and students.

As alleged in the Complaint, the San Mateo County educators assert that the current youth mental health crisis has been made worse by the social media industry’s deployment of artificial intelligence and machine learning to manipulate a youth audience with the goal of keeping children and teens engaged with their products in harmful ways.

The national tragedy of youth mental health is captured in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report. That report observes a steady and then accelerated increase in nearly all categories of risk between 2011 and 2021. The report also tracks social media use. As alleged in the Complaint, leading experts agree that there is a troubling connection between social media use and increases in suicidal behavior and depression in youth. As stated by NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt, social media companies are “monetizing misery.” 

Joseph W. Cotchett, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy said:

"This case represents one of the most serious issues facing the nation’s students—as outlined in the complaint, social media companies have ignited a serious mental health crisis though their deployment of artificial intelligence algorithms designed to keep children and teenagers tied to social media programs in unhealthy ways. Just as we had “Big Tobacco” we now have “Big Tech” exploiting children – one need only follow the tech lobby’s swift and forceful attacks on recent efforts by our California Legislature to put in place common sense rules to address the tracking and profiling of users under the age of 18."

Nancy Magee the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools said:

"As outlined in the Complaint, there is hard science behind the claim that social media is fueling a mental health epidemic in school-age children; every day schools are dealing with the fallout, which includes distracted students, increased absences, more children diagnosed with ADHD, cyber-bullying that carries into the classroom, and even physical damage to our San Mateo Schools, an example is the vandalism caused by the TikTok so-called “Devious Lick Challenge” at the start of the school year."

Karin Swope of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy said:

"As alleged, Defendants purposefully designed their platforms to be addictive and to deliver harmful content to youth. For the youth targeted by social media companies and for the adults charged with their care, the results have been disastrous. Excessive use of the YouTube, TikTok and Snap companies' platforms by children has become ubiquitous. And now there are more children struggling with mental health issues than ever before. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youths."

Anne Marie Murphy, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy said:

"As articulated by President Biden, it is time for social media companies to be held accountable for the harm they are inflicting on children in our Country in the name of profit. The action seeks to recover San Mateo County schools’ costs to address the youth mental health crisis caused by the YouTube, TikTok and Snap companies’ conduct. Our local schools are seeing an uptick in mental health and behavior problems. As discussed in the Complaint, one local high school even had a portion of the school’s bathrooms closed early in the school year after a TikTok challenge and related vandalism."

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