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Social Media Giants TikTok, YouTube, Snap Face Major Lawsuit

This public school system could be the first to tackle social media's algorithm failings.

This article mentions some sensitive topics that may be triggering to some readers, including self-harm, suicide, school violence, and disordered eating. Please continue at your own discretion.

The presence of social media in our lives has bred almost as many controversies as it has viral sensations. Everyday users can easily take for granted the number of algorithms used to display targeted ads, promote popular content, and queue up their "For You" recommendations.

But various investigations have illustrated that, unlike the mechanical devices that deliver our social media content, the rules that shape the way content is distributed are laden with human bias and error.

Social media companies and web browsers alike have come under scrutiny for the way algorithms can reinforce some very unhealthy ideologies. In 2018, Time Magazine illustrated the various ways in which Alphabet  (GOOGL) - Get Free Report service Google revealed anti-Black bias across multiple search features. The article has since been updated to include Google's amendments to these algorithms. 

In 2021, Meta Platforms  (META) - Get Free Report took a major blow when former employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen shed light on the company's methods to prioritize the pushing of content. Haugen shared internal documents illustrating how Meta would push potentially-damaging content due to its ability to incite clicks. She also acknowledged that a significant deal of that damage is done to children and teens using social media.

And while many families have brought suits to individual companies regarding the safety and function of their algorithms, the Seattle Public School system may be the first organization to bring the debate to a courtroom.

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Seattle Public Schools Take Aim at Social Media Sites

Seattle Public Schools have filed a lawsuit against TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Snap Inc.  (SNAP) - Get Free Report, Instagram, and their parent companies claiming financial and operational harm caused by students’ social media usage. According to the suit, “[the mental health crisis] is the result of the Defendants’ deliberate choices and affirmative actions to design and market their social media platforms to attract youth.”

The move was spurned by a social media threat against schools that went viral in December, causing Seattle Public Schools, and many other districts, to operate on high-security alert with the help of local law enforcement. Violent and dangerous risk-taking trends, along with other posts promoting eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide, are among the most problematic content subjects that are raising increasing concerns with parents and educators. While separate suits filed by parents seek restitution from single instances in a greater trend, a suit filed by a school district has the potential to shift the conversation onto an even more public platform.

Social Media Companies Facing More Regulation

TikTok is already facing potential bans in the United States with some uniquely bipartisan support. Unless it can come to an agreement with the current administration regarding the storage of its U.S.-based data, this suit could further motivate legislation looking to cripple the China-based company.

As for Meta, there’s been plenty of regulatory news apart from Haugen’s big reveal keeping the company’s stock price from growing. Last month, stock prices dropped after the EU Commission determined the company was breaking antitrust laws with its targeted ad sales.