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Social Media Complaint Filed by Kent School District

In January, 2023, Kent School District filed a complaint to make clear social media companies are not immune from liability for the harm they cause to the social, emotional, and mental health of our students.

Our students, like students around the country, are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation.  Both King County’s Public Health Department and the U.S. Surgeon General has recognized the youth mental health crisis in our community.

The increase in suicides, attempted suicides, and mental-health related ER visits is no coincidence. Research tells us that excessive and problematic use of social media is harmful to the mental, behavioral, and emotional health of youth.

The evidence is equally clear that social media companies have designed their platforms to maximize the time youth spend using them. And the companies have been successful. As of last year, almost 50 percent of teenagers in the state spent between one and three hours a day on social media and 30 percent averaged more than three hours a day.

Districts like Kent School District have been significantly impacted by the resulting crisis. Like schools across the country, our schools and school-based clinics are one of the main providers of mental health services for school-aged children in the community. But our school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses need greater resources to meet the high demand for services.  

While the King County Council recently allocated additional resources for school-based services, taxpayers should not bear the burden for the mental health crisis social media companies have created. We have therefore asked the Supreme Court to clarify that social media companies are not shielded from liability when they publish or distribute content harmful to our young people’s mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Kent School District suing?

Because there is a mental health crisis among youth that is harming our schools and needs to be addressed. By marketing to and targeting young people, the companies who own these social media platforms have created digital environments that can negatively affect the mental and emotional health of our students.  

We believe that the companies should be held responsible for their actions and the harm they are causing by contributing to the increasing costs that school districts now bear in response to the increasing mental and emotional health needs of students. 

Who is the complaint targeting? 

Kent School District filed a complaint against the companies operating TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and YouTube. You can read this complaint on the Keller Rohrback website.

What are the legal fees? 

The independent law firm representing KSD in this matter — Keller Rohrback Law Offices — is representing the district on a contingency basis as is common in this type of litigation. The firm would be paid through any monetary damages awarded through trial or settlement in the case, not out of the KSD budget. 

What have the social media companies done wrong? 

We are asking that these social media conglomerates greatly increase their responsibility to safeguard our students, who are their most vulnerable consumers. We must do all that we can to support their mental health. 

The reality is that our young people are under incredible strain, facing unprecedented, learning and life struggles that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive properties of social media. We are confident and hopeful that this lawsuit is a significant step toward reversing this trend for our students. 

What is Kent School District seeking in this complaint? 

The district is seeking two forms of recovery:  

  1. To stop social media platforms’ intentional and harmful practices targeting youth;  
  2. To provide the additional resources needed to meet the increased mental health needs of KSD students due to the negative impacts of social media use.  

This case is not about eliminating social media, but it is about changing how social media companies operate. The objective is to force these companies to take responsibility for the harm caused by their business practices. 

Other organizations and individuals have filed complaints against social media companies. What makes this case different? 

School districts are at the front lines of the youth mental health crisis. This complaint will help KSD to address the drain on resources caused by responding to this crisis.  

At this time, we are not aware of any other litigation that seeks to recover on this basis, nor are we aware of any legislation that would provide this relief.