On October 6, 2022, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated lawsuits regarding social media addiction and harm among adolescents into MDL-3047. Lawsuits filed against social media platforms such as Meta platforms, Inc. and Twitter allege that these companies design algorithms to maximize user screen time and foster addictive behavior in minors. Plaintiffs also argue that in addition to addiction, social media platforms cause psychological damage in minors. The newly formed multidistrict litigation will house claims that companies deliberately curate their platforms to addict youth. Furthermore, plaintiffs state that social media companies knew their sites were harmful to minors but concealed this information from the public.
Studies Suggest Social Media Affects Mental Health
Today, social media dominates our society. As the presence of social media has increased over time, so has its grasp on the population. Companies that analyze global internet trends estimate that there may be 4.70 billion social media users worldwide. Also, more social media platforms pop up annually, with 17 sites reporting roughly 300 million active users in July 2022. Surveys show that 90% of teens ages 13 to 17 have used social media, with 75% having at least one active account. Countless adolescents turn to social media to fit in and connect with their peers. Social media allows teens to communicate with friends, stay current on trends, and express themselves, but research points to sinister consequences that lurk beneath these popular platforms.
Over the years, studies have identified a correlation between social media use and instances of mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety in users. Logging onto social media triggers a dopamine response in the brain that keeps users, especially developing adolescents, coming back for more. This chemical reaction results in a social media addiction that researchers believe may contribute to declining mental health in youth.
For example, the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth published a review regarding the impact of social media on adolescents in March 2019. The study concluded that there is an association between social media use and mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and psychological distress among adolescents. Another study in JAMA Psychiatry found that adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems.
JPML Creates Multidistrict Litigation for Social Media Lawsuits
After hearing oral arguments on September 29, 2022, the JPML transferred cases concerning social media adolescent addiction and personal injury to the Northern District of California. In the transfer order, the panel noted that the litigation originally consisted of 28 pending actions, but there are now another 56 related claims since the filing of the motion. The JPML ruled to centralize lawsuits against Meta Platforms, Inc. (owner of Facebook and Instagram), Youtube, Snap, and TikTok. Youtube, Snap, and TikTok opposed consolidating lawsuits filed against them, arguing their platforms operate differently and their user interactions vary, which may give rise to factual issues.
However, the JPML disagreed with these arguments and concluded that centralization is the most efficient way of handling these lawsuits that share similar questions of fact. These lawsuits allege that the social media platforms are defective because the defendants design them to “maximize user screen time and encourage addictive behavior in adolescents.” The plaintiffs state the defendants understood the risk of addiction and psychological damage in adolescents but failed to warn the public that their platforms presented these hazards.