Prince George’s Co. schools sue TikTok, other social media sites

FILE - A view of the TikTok app logo, in Tokyo, Sept. 28, 2020.Britain’s privacy watchdog has hit TikTok with a multimillion-dollar penalty for a slew of data protection breaches including misusing children’s data. The Information Commissioner’s Office said Tuesday, April 4, 2023, that it issued a $15.9 milllion fine to the the short-video sharing app, which is wildly popular with young people. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)(AP/Kiichiro Sato)

The mental health of students is a growing concern among parents and schools, and more and more focus is being put on social media platforms and the role they might play. Now another local school system is doing what others around the country have done: filing a lawsuit.

Prince George’s County, Maryland, Public Schools has filed a federal lawsuit against Meta, Snap Inc., Byte Dance and Google alleging public nuisance, negligence and gross negligence. The nearly 200-page lawsuit accuses the social media companies — which run Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube — of intentionally targeting children with platforms designed to be addictive.

The county said the end result is that those companies continue to rake in profits while schools and parents deal with the fallout that comes from their impact. In particular, the lawsuit cites increases in eating disorders, depression and suicidal ideations among teenagers.

Meta sent a lengthy response to WTOP from Antigone Davis, Meta’s head of safety:

“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.”

Meta also said over 99% of content that promotes suicide, eating disorders or other types of self-harm are taken down before it’s ever reported and that parents have increased access to tools that help them supervise what their kids see.

The other three companies being sued have not yet responded.

The lawsuit doesn’t ask for any specific amount of damages, but does seek compensation for the financial burden incurred by the county as it provides more mental health services. The county is also asking a jury to award punitive damages.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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