Business Maverick

Business Maverick

NYC sues social media platforms over teen mental-health concern

NYC sues social media platforms over teen mental-health concern
The TikTok logo is displayed on a phone in Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BREHMAN)

New York City joined a growing chorus of states, cities and school districts suing social media companies over claims that their platforms are fuelling a mental-health crisis among teens, alleging that Meta Platforms and others exploit children and adolescents.

The most populous US city filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in California state court in Los Angeles against Meta, its Facebook and Instagram platforms; TikTok Inc. and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd.; Google LLC and its YouTube platform; and Snapchat owner Snap Inc.

Social media companies face mounting legal risks from claims that they use algorithms to get teenagers and adolescents addicted to their platforms. Meta was sued by the attorneys general of more than 30 states over similar claims in October. A month later, a judge in Oakland, California, ordered Meta, Google, TikTok and Snap to face hundreds of suits blaming them for hooking young people.

Hundreds of school districts also have sued to force the companies to change their behaviour and pay the cost of addressing social media addiction. New York said it spends more than $100-million on mental health programmes and services for youth every year. The city’s health commissioner last month called unchecked access to social media a “public health hazard”.

“Our city is built on innovation and technology, but many social media platforms end up endangering our children’s mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behaviour,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

‘Maximising engagement’

Like many other complaints across the US, the New York City lawsuit alleges the companies borrowed from behavioural and neurobiological tactics used by the casino and tobacco industries to design features aimed at “maximising youth engagement to drive advertising revenue,” and target children and adolescents who are “particularly vulnerable to the addictive effects of those features.”

José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, disputed the city’s claims.

“Providing young people with a safer, healthier experience online has always been core to our work,” he said in an email. “In collaboration with youth, mental health and parenting experts, we’ve built services and policies to give young people age-appropriate experiences, and parents robust controls.”

Meta said it wants teens to have “safe, age-appropriate experiences online,” citing more than 30 tools and features to support them and parents.

“We’ve spent a decade working on these issues and hiring people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online,” a spokesperson said in a statement. 

A TikTok spokesperson said the company has “industry-leading safeguards to support teens’ well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18, and more. We regularly partner with experts to understand emerging best practices, and will continue to work to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges.”

A spokesperson for Snap, in a statement, said the platform was “intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends. Snapchat opens directly to a camera – rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling – and has no traditional public likes or comments. While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.”


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options