2023 was the year that powerful tech companies and their platforms began to be held responsible for their roles in the ongoing youth mental health crisis.
Across the country, state attorneys general and school districts filed lawsuits against Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram), ByteDance (parent company of TikTok) and Snap, Inc. which operates Snapchat. State and federal lawmakers also introduced legislation to ban children ages 13 and under from being able to register accounts on social media platforms.
Let’s look at these lawsuits and legislation and see where they currently stand.
Dozens of states, including Pennsylvania, sued Meta in October for its role in the youth mental health crisis, alleging that the company knowingly designed features on Instagram and Facebook to keep children addicted to the platforms. In announcing the lawsuit, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said, “The time has come for social media giants to stop trading in our children’s mental health for big profits.” The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, is making its way through the process.
School districts across the country have sued social media companies, alleging they caused mental health problems for students. The Pittsburgh school district filed a suit in federal court in April against Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube. The suit claimed these companies induced “young people to compulsively use their services,” causing mental health problems the school districts have to address. These lawsuits are also pending before the courts.
Senate Bill 22, which sets conditions for minors using social, was sponsored by Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) in May 2023. If adopted by the General Assembly, the legislation would:
- Require consent from a parent or legal guardian for anyone under age 16 to open a social media account.
- Require notification to parents or a legal guardian if anyone under 16 opens an account without proper consent.
- Restricts data mining for any user under the age of 18.
- Allows individuals to request the deletion of personal information obtained while they were under age 18.
The legislation is currently before the state Senate Communications and Technology Committee for consideration.
Family Digital Wellness
As Angela Liddle, PFSA president and CEO, wrote in a May commentary for The (Greensburg) Tribune-Review: “Legislation is critical to protecting our children, but it won’t provide a comprehensive solution. Kids and teens have for ages been able to circumvent parental controls to access technologies and content deemed ‘taboo’ by adults and governments. Training and diligence will be crucial to ensure children and teens use digital technologies in safe, healthy, and constructive ways.” To accomplish this, PFSA created the Family Digital Wellness initiative to strengthen families to raise healthy children in a digital era. The Family Digital Wellness hub provides resources and tools to protect your children while they’re on their phones, gaming devices, or tablets.