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Hypocritical lawsuits won't save kids from social media's harm
When a vandal starts blaming the spray paint companies, it’s hard not to laugh.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
The Seattle school district, among others, is suing tech companies TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and YouTube for causing harm to their students’ social, emotional, and mental health. Are these lawsuits merited, and are they likely to make a difference?
The complaints themselves are entirely merited. The damage that social media platforms can inflict on children has been well documented; I’ve made the case in several past columns. Tech companies produce the platforms utilizing algorithms that incite addictive behavior. Ergo, those companies should bear much of the responsibility.
But it’s important to realize when we have good standing to make that case and when we’re just fanning the smoke from our own fire onto someone else’s inferno. When a vandal starts blaming the spray paint companies, it’s hard not to laugh.
That’s the problem with lawsuits like this. They reek of hypocrisy. What would you think of a parent that feeds their children Happy Meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then sues McDonald’s for causing their kids’ unhealthiness?
I’d say they have some nerve. That’s how I feel about school districts suing tech companies for students’ ailing mental health. A closer look at Seattle’s complaint only strengthens that opinion.
Seattle says their goal is “to change how these companies operate and force them to take responsibility. We are asking these popular companies to maximize their efforts to safeguard students, who are their most vulnerable consumers.”
Okay, but do school districts take responsibility for allowing these “vulnerable consumers” to use their phones — and the apps that are so harmful — during school, often during class? And are districts really “maximizing their efforts to safeguard students” by issuing each of them a laptop that tightens their dependence on digital media?
Are they even aware that most school districts employ those digital platforms for their own purposes? The Seattle school district utilizes Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter. If they feel so strongly about the evil outcomes of social media, why are they still exploiting the platforms?
Seattle also says, “Young people across the nation are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation … We cannot ignore the mental health needs of our students.”
Okay, but do school districts accept any responsibility for all that they do to cause anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts?
If they did, they would sue themselves for failing to protect students from violence, sexual harassment, bullying, and behavioral disruptions to learning. School districts, after all, are the ones reducing suspensions and other meaningful consequences for such behavior, siding with aggressors over victims and creating school climates so dangerous that teachers are quitting and students are walking out in protest. When students do not feel safe and secure at school, they become candidates for all of the mental health concerns the district wants to blame social media for.
And if districts care so much about student mental health, why not sue the parents who put phones in the hands of their children before they’re practically old enough to talk? And why not sue the federal government over special education laws that virtually forbid schools to protect children from violent classmates? And why wouldn’t they sue state governments for efforts to legalize harmful drugs like THC, giving children effortless access to substances that inflict anxiety, depression, aggression, and thoughts of self-harm?
I can only assume they fail to do these things for one of two reasons. They’re either completely lacking in self-awareness, or they’re more interested in grandstanding than in confronting the actual problems.
Nevertheless, will these lawsuits help children? It’s doubtful. It’s hard to see how mildly inconveniencing the tech companies and making lots of lawyers richer would make any difference.
What would make a difference, however, is parents and schools working together to make tough, sensible decisions about what’s best for children. Unity in common sense is far stronger and more durable than any self-serving lawsuit could ever hope to be.
Read original column here.
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