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Louisiana School District Sues Social Media Over Teen Health

The Livingston Parish School Board has filed a lawsuit against TikTok and Instagram, claiming the platforms are so addictive they have created a mental health crisis among the district’s students.

The Livingston Parish, La., School Board is suing TikTok and Instagram, arguing the social media giants have made their platforms so addictive that they have created a mental health crisis among the district's students.

Originally filed in the 21st Judicial District Court located in Livingston in mid-July, last week the case was transferred to federal court. The school board is represented by the law firm Fayard & Honeycutt.

In addition to TikTok and Instagram — along with their parent companies ByteDance and Meta — the board is also suing two internet service providers, alleging they are responsible for "facilitating minors' access" to the social media platforms.

"This action is brought to protect children and families in the State of Louisiana from Defendants' intentional manipulation of children via sophisticated design elements deployed on Instagram and TikTok," the lawsuit says. "Defendants do this to keep Louisiana children addicted to their social media platforms."

The school board has asked the court to prevent the companies from "engaging in the conduct" that they say has negatively impacted their students. It is also seeking monetary recompense to fund preventative education for excessive social media use, along with seeking other damages.

The plaintiffs are also demanding a trial by jury in the case.

Livingston Parish joins an emerging national trend of school districts suing various social media platforms over the apps' purported impact on students.

The complaint cites statistics from recent academic years at Livingston Parish Schools to illiustrate some of the board's concerns.

For instance, during the 2021-2022 school year, there were 2,306 disciplinary incidents involving cell phones and unauthorized technology use. That number rose to 2,488 incidents for 2022-2023.

"These incidents continue, unabated," the lawsuit. "Each of these disciplinary incidents took — and will continue to take — time away from the Plaintiff's primary mission to educate the children of Livingston Parish."

The complaint also claims LPPS guidance counselors surveryed by the school district say they deal with social media issues frequently in their jobs, ranging from about 5% of their time to more than half of their time.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the claim that the social media companies designed their platforms to be addictive to capture children's prolonged attention — despite the fact that they knew their apps were harmful to youth.

"Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, with design elements that intentionally keep children engaged for as long as possible — to the exclusion of all other activities — harm their users emotionally, developmentally, and physically," the complaint says.

The platforms, the lawsuit contends, open up the potential for "exposure to predators and online bullies, age-inappropriate content, damage to children's self-esteem, and increased risk of eating disorders and even suicide."

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges both platforms represent that they are safe for minors, but that the social media giants know the dangers they pose to youth.

"Defendants do this with full knowledge that their products cause profound mental and physical harm to children, and that their addictive design elements only amplify those harms, particularly on young, developing brains," the lawsuit says.

The complaint also references ongoing national privacy concerns regarding TikTok and claims the platforms use "social manipulation" to keep youth addicted to them.

According to the school board, officials have taken numerous steps to "mitigate the harm and disruption" of the apps, including hiring additional personnel and creating new resources to address mental, emotional and social health issues, developing lesson plans to educate students about the platforms' dangers, increasing disciplinary services to address bullying, harassment and threats, and confiscating devices.

More seriously, officials have been forced to address "property damage as a result of students acting out" because of the emotional and mental problems the apps are causing, in addition to "investigating and responding to threats made against" the schools and students over social media.

The social media companies and Spectrum — one of the internet service providers named in the case — did not respond to a request for comment. A Cox Communications spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The board "seeks to protect Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens from unfair harms and restore Louisiana children's and families' trust," the lawsuit says. "Parents, not Silicon Valley executives, need to decide what is best for their children, and to have complete autonomy as they do so."

(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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