Millions of people are addicted to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others. A large percentage of those addicted to social media are children and young adults. For these vulnerable users, social media addiction can be very harmful and lead to things like eating disorders, depression, and in some cases suicide.
Now social media companies are facing a wave of new lawsuits alleging that they knowingly designed the algorithms of their platforms to lure young people into harmful addictions.
Our national mass tort lawyers are currently seeking social media addiction lawsuits from individuals who became addicted to social media before age 21 and suffered a serious physical injury as a direct result of that addiction. Physical injuries resulting from social media addiction could include suicide, self-harm, or an eating disorder.
Class Action MDL Created for Social Media Addiction Lawsuits
January 2, 2023: The JPML ruled last week that all pending cases involving allegations of teen addiction to social media platforms will be consolidated into a class action MDL in the Northern District of California. There are currently about 80 of these cases pending in federal courts. The lawsuits allege that social media platforms are harmfully addictive for teens causing them to harm themselves. The new class action MDL will include social media addiction cases against all the various defendants, even though 70% of the cases are against Meta.
October 13, 2022: With the number of social media addiction lawsuits being filed across the county on the rise, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation agree yesterday to centralize all of the cases into a new “class action” MDL. The new MDL (In re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Prod. Liab. Lit. – MDL No. 304) has been assigned to the Norther District of California, which is were most of the defendants are headquartered.
The JMPL Initial Transfer Order consolidates 28 cases pending in 17 different judicial districts. Centralizing a large group of related cases into an MDL is usually the first step towards some type of global settlement and it is frequently done in mass tort product liability cases.
The social media addiction lawsuits involve new and unique legal claims that will most likely sink or swim collectively based on whether the plaintiffs can present sufficient scientific evidence to avoid preemptive dismissal of the cases. The MDL class action will help that cause by allowing the various plaintiffs to pool resources and present the best possible expert opinions.
Social Media Platforms Target Teens
Over 90% of all teens in the U.S. use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Studies estimate that the average teen spends around 3 hours every day engaging with social media platforms. Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for young people and teenagers. Instagram recently reported that it has over 57 million users below the age of 18.
The social media companies such as Meta Platforms (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) have intentionally designed their products to maximize users’ screen time. They do this by employing complex algorithms designed to exploit human psychology. Meta and other social media companies are continuously updating and modifying their products to promote excessive.
The social media platforms have created user interfaces that intentionally display content that is often irresistible to young users. The “feed” features on most social media platforms are continuously showing young users an endless stream of content that the algorithm curates based on a data profile of the user’s interests.
Teens are Especially Vulnerable to the Dangers of Social Media Addiction
Scientific research shows that the human brain is still developing during adolescence. Teenage brains are not fully developed in regions related to risk evaluation, emotional control, and impulse control. The algorithms utilized by major social media platforms intentionally exploit the lack of fully developed impulse and emotional control in the brains of adolescent users.
When teens get “likes” on social media it causes their brains to release euphoria-causing dopamine. However, as soon as dopamine is released, their euphoria is countered by dejection: minor users’ brains adapt by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. With normal forms of positive stimulation, the brain goes back to neutral after a brief down period. However, social media algorithms are designed to exploit users’ natural tendency to counteract dejection by going back to the source of pleasure for another dose of euphoria.
Eventually, as this pattern continues over months and years, the neurological baseline for triggering the teen users’ dopamine responses increases. Teens then continue to use Facebook and Instagram, not for enjoyment, but simply to feel normal. When teens attempt to stop using social media products, they experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance including anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and craving.
Addictive use of social media by minors is psychologically and neurologically analogous to addiction to internet gaming disorder. Gaming addiction is recognized as a mental disease by the World Health Organization and other public health agencies.
Social Media Companies Profit From Teen Addictions
The revenues and profits generated by social media companies are directly tied to the amount of time that users spend on the platform. More users spending more time equals more money.
For this reason, the social media companies are constantly adapting their technology to maximize user engagement, which effectively makes the platform more and more addictive to vulnerable teen users.
In October 2021, a former Facebook (Meta) employee testified before Congress that executives at the social media company made marketing and business decisions that put teen users at risk. The former employee told lawmakers that Facebook was fully aware of that its platforms were having harmful effects on teens.
How Social Media Addiction Can Harm Young People
A rapidly growing body of scientific research (including internal research by the social media companies themselves) has shown that addiction to social media can result in very serious emotional harm and potentially physical harm for teens.
In 2018, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found a clear correlation between time spent on social media platforms and mental health issues, depression, and social ideation among adolescents. The study findings found that excessive use of social media correlated to an increase in self-harm behavior.
In 2021, the results of a long-term study by BYU on the impact of social media on teens found that teenage girls who used social media for 2-3 hours a day had a clinically higher risk for suicide.
In fact, research performed by the social media companies themselves has confirmed that harm caused by these platforms. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook performed internal research which found significant mental health issues related to Instagram use by teenage girls, including suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies for Harm Caused by Teen Addiction
Over the last year, a growing number of product liability lawsuits have been filed against Meta and other social media companies seeking to hold them liable for injuries resulting from teen addictions to social media platforms. These lawsuits are being brought by teens and/or their parents. Nearly all of the lawsuits filed so far have been brought against Meta for addictions to its Instagram or Facebook platforms.
The social media harm lawsuits allege that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were designed in a way that made them addictive and, therefore, unreasonably dangerous to adolescent users. The lawsuits also claim that the social media companies negligently failed to warn minor users and their parents about the risks of addiction and resulting harm.
The plaintiffs in these lawsuits are seeking damages for serious physical injuries allegedly suffered as a result of teens becoming addicted to Instagram and Facebook. Injuries alleged in the lawsuits include self-mutilation, self-harm, severe eating disorders, and death from suicide.
Class Action MDL Sought for Instagram Addiction Lawsuits
In August 2022, one of the plaintiffs bringing an Instagram addiction harm lawsuits against Meta filed a motion with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) requesting that all other Instagram addiction harm lawsuits in federal courts be consolidated into a new class action MDL. The motion identified a total of 28 similar lawsuits pending in various federal district courts alleging harm resulting from teens becoming addicted to Instagram and Facebook. Meta has yet to file a response to this request.
Social Media Companies May Claim Legal Immunity
Under 47 U.S.C. § 230, website platforms have immunity from liability for content posted by third parties. This law has been the subject of serious political debate in recent years as social media companies have come under fire for not removing what some people viewed as “harmful” material or “disinformation.” The scope of immunity under § 230 is currently the subject of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This law will likely be inapplicable to the social media addiction lawsuits. Although § 230 gives platforms like Facebook immunity for harm caused by content posted by users, it does not give them immunity for harm caused by its own technology and algorithms, which is what is being alleged in the addiction lawsuits.
Will Social Media Addiction Lawsuit Be Successful?
The lawsuits seeking to hold social media companies liable for harm caused by addiction to their platforms are clearly unique and in many ways unprecedented. None of these cases have gone to trial or settled. These cases involve somewhat novel tort claims and the plaintiffs will face a tuff uphill battle on many fronts.
One of the most significant pitfalls for these social media addiction lawsuits will be proving causation. First, the plaintiffs will need to scientifically prove that there was a physical addiction to the platform. There have been studies on this, but it’s not certain whether these would meet the level of academic scrutiny necessary to be admissible in court.
Even if the plaintiffs can prove that there was an actual addiction to a social media platform, they will also need to prove that the addiction was “more likely than not” the cause of the physical harm suffered by the teen. In a suicide case, this might be very difficult because social media addiction will likely be just one of several contributing causes.
Potential Settlement Value of Social Media Addiction Lawsuits
It is very premature to say with any level of certainty what the settlement value of social media addiction lawsuits might be. At this point, it’s not even certain that any of these lawsuits will be successful. For the purposes of discussion, however, we can speculate on what these cases might be worth if successful.
Social media addiction cases involving teen suicide would have the highest potential settlement value. A wrongful death claim involving a teenager with their whole life ahead of them would typically have a value range of $1.5-$5 million depending on the circumstances. Certain wrongful death suicide cases could be worth even more.
Those social media addiction lawsuits with less serious injuries, such as self-mutilation or an eating disorder would have a much lower value.
Contact Us About a Social Media Addiction Lawsuit
If you or your child has suffered serious physical harm as a result of addiction to social media, contact our lawyers today for a free consultation.