Home Canada schools sue social media giants for $4.5bn

Canada schools sue social media giants for $4.5bn

Schools in several major cities in Canada have initiated legal actions against social media corporations, including Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook, alleging that these platforms hurt children’s mental health and educational progress.

On Wednesday, school districts from Toronto, Ottawa, and Peel Region launched individual lawsuits, collectively seeking damages amounting to approximately $4.5 billion.

The legal actions against Meta, TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd., and Snapchat parent Snap Inc. allege that these firms intentionally target children with products designed to be addictive. This, in turn, leads to disturbances in classroom settings and increases the susceptibility of children to sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Toronto District School Board said in a complaint filed in Ontario’s Superior Court: “Endemic social media use is causing an unprecedented youth mental health crisis within the Plaintiff’s schools and amongst its student population.

“Students’ social media use is causing significantly increased rates of anxiety, depression, social media addiction, body dysmorphia, anorexia, low self-esteem, disordered eating, suicidal ideation, pervasive loneliness, self-harm, and suicide,” it continued.

It claimed that the companies “capitalized on their knowledge that the developing child brain is particularly vulnerable and prone to manipulation” by these social media products.

Only this week (March 26), Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law to effectively ban young children from social media. Under the new legislation to be introduced on 1 January 2025, Florida will prohibit children aged 13 and under from having access to social media, whilst 14 and 15-year-olds will require parental consent to be online.

The ongoing issue with social media

In January, social media executives testified at a US Senate hearing aimed at addressing online child exploitation. The CEOs of Meta, TikTok, Snap, Discord and X, formerly known as Twitter, shared their stance amid growing concerns and questions about how platforms are considering their impact on children.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg surprisingly turned to parents of victims on the Senate floor and apologized. “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Zuckerberg said while parents displayed photographs of their children, who died after suffering from sexual exploitation or harassment through social media platforms.

Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap Inc., expressed similar sentiments to parents whose children obtained illegal drugs via Snapchat. In late 2023, parents of over 60 teenagers sued Snap, accusing it of enabling their children to purchase drugs that led to overdoses.

In October 2023, a massive lawsuit filed by 33 states accused Meta of knowingly designing its platforms to be addictive and harmful to children’s mental health. The claims originate from internal research leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2021, revealing that 13.5% of teenage girls reported Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts, and 17% stated it aggravates eating disorders.

Featured image: Canva

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Suswati Basu
Tech journalist

Suswati Basu is a multilingual, award-winning editor and the founder of the intersectional literature channel, How To Be Books. She was shortlisted for the Guardian Mary Stott Prize and longlisted for the Guardian International Development Journalism Award. With 18 years of experience in the media industry, Suswati has held significant roles such as head of audience and deputy editor for NationalWorld news, digital editor for Channel 4 News and ITV News. She has also contributed to the Guardian and received training at the BBC As an audience, trends, and SEO specialist, she has participated in panel events alongside Google. Her…

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