Pittsburgh Public Schools files suit against social-media companies

Apr. 8—Pittsburgh Public Schools officials have filed a federal lawsuit against multiple international social media companies, accusing them of fomenting "an unprecedented mental health crisis fueled by (their) addictive and dangerous social media platforms."

The school district filed the suit April 6 against Meta Platforms (Facebook's parent company), Meta Payments, Siculus, Facebook Operations, Instagram, Snap, TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, Google and YouTube.

It alleges that the dramatic uptick in social-media usage by young people "is no accident."

"It is the result of Defendants' studied efforts to induce young people to compulsively use their services — Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube," district officials wrote in court documents.

The suit cites the use of several measures on the part of social media companies, including:

—The use of metrics and graphics to exploit social comparison

—"Incessant" notifications that encourage repetitive account checking by manufacturing insecurity

—"Inadequate, essentially illusory" age verification protocols

—"Deficient" tools for parents "that create the illusion of control"

"Instead of feeding coins into machines, kids are feeding Defendants' platforms with an endless supply of attention, time and data," school officials said.

The suit cites a recent quote from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy: "You have some of the best designers and service developers in the world, who have designed these services to make sure people are maximizing the amount of time they spend on these platforms. And if we tell a child, 'Use the force of your willpower to control how much time you're spending,' you're pitting a child against the world's greatest product designers."

The lawsuit contends that social-media developers "deliberately tweaked the design and operation of their apps to exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of kids."

It accuses the companies of negligence and being a public nuisance, along with fraudulent and negligent concealment and misrepresentation specifically against Meta. It is requesting damages as well as a declaration that the companies have n "dangerously designed (their) platforms and failed to provide adequate warnings," and an order that the companies "remedy the unreasonably dangerous features in (their) social media platforms."

None of the companies named has yet responded to the court filing.

Last month, officials in Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania filed a similar suit in California, accusing the major social media companies of marketing their platforms in a way that "encourages youth addiction."

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .