Local School System Joins Lawsuit

NEWARK – An Eastern Shore school system has filed a lawsuit against several major social media companies for their role in the youth mental health crisis.

Somerset County Public Schools announced late last week that it has filed suit against Meta, Google, ByteDance, Snap Inc. and TikTok. The effort, part of a nationwide movement to hold the companies accountable for social media’s impact on children’s mental health, has not yet been discussed by the Worcester County Board of Education.

“…to date there have been no discussion here in Worcester of this case,” said Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs.

According to a news release from Somerset County Public Schools, the lawsuit alleges that the addictive nature of social media has created a pressing need for the school system to provide mental health support, “depleting resources, necessitating extra training for faculty and staff, and negatively impacting” the school environment. Exposure to social media has allegedly increased rates of bullying, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The school system has had to redirect funds meant for essential education to counter the detrimental effects of social media. Joining in the legal action is an attempt to pursue financial compensation to reduce reliance on taxpayer funding.

“Our primary goal is to provide the best education and learning opportunities for our students in a safe environment,” Somerset County Board of Education Chairperson William McInturff said in the release. “The significant increase in mental health needs among our students, exacerbated by harmful social media platforms, complicates the job of educators, challenges parents, and impacts student instruction. It’s crucial for these tech companies to acknowledge their responsibility in this crisis and understand how profoundly it is affecting our youth.”

The school system is part of a coalition of school districts, individuals and state attorneys general to attempt to hold social media companies accountable. The lawsuit argues that the social media giants design their platforms to target children without warnings to users and their parents about the potential dangers.

“The case alleges that these tech companies prioritize financial gains over the safety and well-being of children, despite being aware of the harmful consequences,” the release reads. “With advertising-driven business models, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok generate substantial profits, while Somerset County Public Schools, parents, and children grapple with the aftermath. The school district has been compelled to redirect funds meant for essential educational resources to counter the detrimental effects of social media. Through this legal action, Somerset County Public Schools seeks to hold these corporations accountable for exploiting children and pursue financial compensation to reduce reliance on taxpayer funds.”

Somerset County Public Schools are represented in the lawsuit by Baird, Mandalas, Brockstedt & Federico and Carney Kelehan.

“Schools across the country are facing the complex task of attending to students’ mental health requirements, delivering high-quality education, and cultivating a secure learning atmosphere,” said Philip Federico, an attorney representing the school district. “This legal action is designed to hold social media companies accountable for their contribution to aggravating the mental health crisis among young individuals. Furthermore, it seeks compensation to alleviate the financial strains imposed on school districts by the exploitative platforms of the defendants.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.