A school district in the US state of Maryland has sued Meta, Google, Snapchat and TikTok for allegedly contributing to a "mental health crisis" among students.
The lawsuit, filed by the Howard County Public School System, said that children are suffering an unprecedented mental health crisis fuelled by addictive and dangerous social media products.
In the past decade, Americans' engagement with social media grew exponentially.
"That explosion in usage is no accident. It is the result of defendants' studied efforts to induce young people to compulsively use their products -- Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube," the lawsuit read.
Social media platforms have grown not just their user bases, but the frequency with which users use their platforms and the time each user spends on their platforms.
"Their growth is a product of choices they made to design and operate their platforms in ways that exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users into spending more and more time on their platforms," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit cited several issues on social media platforms, including the addictive "dopamine-triggering rewards" on each app, such as TikTok's 'For You' page, which leverages data about user activity to provide an endless stream of suggested content.
It also mentioned Facebook and Instagram's recommendation algorithms and "features that are designed to create harmful loops of repetitive and excessive product usage".
"These techniques are both particularly effective and harmful young users. Defendants have intentionally cultivated, creating a mental health crisis among America's youth," the lawsuit noted.
Adolescents and children are central to their business models. These age groups are highly connected to the Internet, more likely to have social media accounts, and more likely to devote their downtime to social media usage.
"In a race to corner the 'valuable but untapped' market of tween and teen users, each defendant designed product features to promote repetitive, uncontrollable use by kids," the school district argued.
School systems in Washington, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Tennessee, and others have filed similar lawsuits over the negative effects that social media has had on the mental health of kids.