In July, two families in Kentucky filed lawsuits against Instagram (whose parent company is Meta, which we all still consider Facebook) to blame the company for their daughters’ eating disorders and mental illnesses. This is the tip of a giant iceberg, as with more than 80 lawsuits pending, parents claim that Facebook and other social media platforms are causing irreparable damage to their children.
As these cases continue to pile up, they come as no surprise to those who have been closely following the legal woes of these social media companies. In recent years, Facebook has faced a spate of lawsuits alleging that it failed to protect minors from sex offenders and cyberbullyers.
The current lawsuits follow steps from an earlier round filed in 2016 by a coalition of consumer groups and public interest organizations that alleged that Facebook’s policies violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Those lawsuits, consolidated into a federal case currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Circuits, all sought class-action status for millions of minors who they allege have suffered emotional distress as a result of their interactions with other children on Facebook or Instagram
In 2017, Facebook was sued in Illinois by the parents of a 14-year-old girl who allegedly died by suicide after being bullied online on the social media platform. The lawsuit, which also named Instagram and the alleged bullies as defendants, alleged that Facebook failed to implement safeguards to protect children from online violence. In demanding $100 million in damages for their daughter’s death, the parents argue that their daughter might do it if Facebook had done more to prevent bullying on its platforms and remove objectionable content when it was shared by users or others Third parties (e.g. school authorities) have been reported to be alive today.
In 2018, two other lawsuits were filed in California alleging that Facebook knowingly allowed minors to access its platforms and failed to protect them. One of those cases involved a 13-year-old girl who says she was bullied via Instagram and then sexually assaulted by an adult man. She says that after reporting the incident, Instagram did not remove the photos posted by her attacker. In California, minors may sue in civil court without parental permission for harm caused by the negligence or negligence of another, but only if they are seeking damages for personal injury. The girls’ lawyers argue their clients’ suffering qualifies as such an injury because it caused “severe emotional distress”.
Whether Facebook is held liable for an anorexia case is less important than collectively opening a very powerful door for families filing these lawsuits.
Kila Baldwin, a Philadelphia-based catastrophic injury attorney who is very familiar with these types of cases, shared a poignant observation with me:
“The collective weight of these ongoing lawsuits rests heavily on the backs of social media companies, who must individually and collectively recognize that their platforms, which they often claim are designed to change lives for the better, can also destroy them.”
One thing is absolutely clear: these claims are not going away anytime soon, nor are other potential legal challenges affecting children’s use of social media platforms. These social media companies have no viable option to move forward other than to hold themselves to a higher standard.
Aron Solomon, JD, is director of strategy at Esquire Digital and editor of Today’s Esquire. This column was provided by InsideSources.