PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The capital city is suing several social media giants, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, for perpetuating the ongoing children’s mental health crisis, 12 News has learned.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, accuses the companies of “ruthlessly seeking to maximize profits at any cost and with callous disregard for the harm that their platforms cause to minors’ mental and behavioral health.”
“As part of this quest to maximize revenue, [the companies] exploit adolescent users’ still-developing decision-making capacity, impulse control, emotional maturity, and poor psychological resiliency,” the lawsuit explains.
The city is targeting the following social media platforms in the lawsuit: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Google.
The city seeks to hold these companies accountable for “the harm caused by their conduct, which preys on their youngest and most vulnerable users,” according to the lawsuit.
“Over the last two decades, across the country, including within the city of Providence, an astounding number of adolescents have begun to suffer from poor mental health and behavioral disorders,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit accuses the social media platforms of “creating a public nuisance.” In a statement to 12 News, a city spokesperson said Providence “…has seen firsthand the impacts these companies have had on the mental health of our residents, particularly our youth.”
“[Providence’s] community and schools have been directly impacted by the mental health crisis among youth and have been tasked with addressing the surge in mental, emotional and social issues among this population,” the lawsuit says.
The city is requesting financial compensation, since it has “…borne the cost of the increased need for youth mental health services.” It is also requesting a jury trial.
12 News has reached out to each social media company listed in the lawsuit for comment and will add their responses below as they‘re received:
“Protecting kids across our platforms has always been core to our work. In collaboration with child development specialists, we have built age-appropriate experiences for kids and families on YouTube, and provide parents with robust controls. The allegations in these complaints are simply not true.” — Google Spokesperson José Castañeda
“Snapchat was designed differently from other social media platforms because nothing is more important to us than the well-being of our community. Our app opens directly to a camera rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling and is primarily used to help real friends communicate. We aren’t an app that encourages perfection or popularity, and we vet all content before it can reach a large audience, which helps protect against the promotion and discovery of potentially harmful material. While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping friends feel connected, informed, happy, and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.”
“We want to reassure every parent that we have their interests at heart in the work we’re doing to provide teens with safe, supportive experiences online. We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and their families, including tools that allow parents to decide when, and for how long, their teens use Instagram, age verification technology, automatically setting accounts belonging to those under 16 to private when they join Instagram, and sending notifications encouraging teens to take regular breaks. We’ve invested in technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-injury or eating disorders before anyone reports it to us. These are complex issues, but we will continue working with parents, experts and regulators such as the state attorneys general to develop new tools, features and policies that meet the needs of teens and their families.”