Bucks County has joined a class action lawsuit alleging several of the world’s largest social media companies have knowingly worked to addict youth to a variety of platforms that are inciting a mental health crisis across the county and the country, officials announced at a Doylestown press conference Wednesday.
“This (lawsuit) addresses the harms suffered by children,” said Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan. “We will hold these companies responsible for fueling this crisis.”
The civil case was filed Tuesday in a California federal court. It asserts TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat have designed platforms that “encourage youth addiction,” according to a county statement.
Social media “can and should take measures to stem the tide of the mental health crisis afflicting America’s social media-addicted youth,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint also seeks monetary damages for the harm done to children and teens. The companies and the technology giants that own them have “targeted kids, as a ‘feature’ of how they make money,” said Kahn.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub characterized the lawsuit as a “David and Goliath” battle. “They preyed on our children,” he said. “There’s literally and figuratively a line outside the door of our mental health services for youth. Children are suffering.”
By using mechanics similar to gambling, the platforms manipulate users with “intermittent variable awards” that deliver addicting shots of dopamine as users receive personalized content and advertisements, the suit alleges.
For teenagers, whose brains are most vulnerable, the suit maintains social media’s “social rewards” are especially rewarding. More than 90 percent of American children age 13-17 report using social media, making them a prime target for boosting companies’ bottom line, the lawsuit claims.
“The profit model is to keep them engaged as long as possible,” said Kahn.
Weintraub said the social media companies claimed their platforms “were not addictive, not harmful to our youth. That is false.
“We are putting them on notice, we will win and we will make them pay.”