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Another School District Joins Lawsuit Against Social Media

The Allegheny Valley School District joined a growing list of school districts nationwide that are in the process of pursuing legal action against social media companies like TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

Social media apps on a smartphone screen.
Shutterstock/Cristian Dina
(TNS) — The Allegheny Valley School District joined a growing list of school districts nationwide pursuing legal action against social media companies.

The district's school board voted this week to join a civil, multijurisdictional lawsuit against social media companies including Facebook, TikTok and YouTube in an effort to hold those companies accountable for how they operate and manage their products.

The suit claims social media is having an adverse effect on school-age children.

The motion includes a contingent fee agreement with California-based Frantz Law Group, which means the Allegheny Valley School District is not responsible for any fees and costs if the district does not receive any monetary compensation in the matter.

Apollo-Ridge School District in Armstrong County also is part of the lawsuit.

A memo from Frantz Law Group states that research confirms social media is playing a major role in causing mental health problems in youth, and excessive and problematic use of social media is harmful to children's mental, behavioral and emotional health. It also states excessive use of social media is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders and suicide.

The lawsuit alleges the social media companies' action related to their platforms substantially contribute to the youth mental health crisis in America, according to the memo.

"As alleged in the lawsuit, defendants have made choices to target youth, to maximize the time youth spend on defendants' social media platforms, and then designed their algorithms to feed children harmful content, like videos promoting eating disorders, violence, self-harm and suicide," the memo reads. "The lawsuit alleges that defendants choose to put profits over the mental health of children and that defendants' current business models for their social media platforms are deeply flawed and are causing real harm."

According to the memo, in this litigation, each school district will file its own action in their local federal court. Within 30 days, the case will be transferred to the federal court in San Francisco, where all school district cases against the defendants will be litigated in what is called a "mass action" lawsuit.

Allegheny Valley School Board Member Paula Jean Moretti said she believes the litigation will bring awareness to issues with social media, adding she didn't see any harm in joining the lawsuit.

"I like the idea of us getting in on it, so we can be an example of, 'We want to bring this to the forefront,' " Moretti said.

She, along with school board members Larry Pollick, David Buchman, Kathleen Haas, Glenna Renaldi and Colleen Crumb voted to pursue the litigation. Pollick, the board's president, said he understood the positives of media and technology and its benefit to students, but the board can't ignore the advertising and marketing that social media companies allegedly use to target students negatively.

Amy Sarno and Sal Conte dissented. Antonio Pollino was absent.

Sarno agreed that social media and the internet can be dangerous, but felt the proposed litigation was "inauthentic." She disagreed with the notion in the lawsuit that social media is a root cause of the youth mental health crisis — it may be correlated but is not the cause, Sarno said.

She said research out of the covid-19 pandemic shows social media, when used appropriately, actually may improve students' mental health and establish a form of connection.

"This litigation, were we to pursue it ... in the end though, it doesn't do anything. It doesn't force the companies to make any kind of changes," she said. "And, I think if we are going to go forward with this ... we have to also do our part as a district to educate parents, to educate students" about how to properly and safely use social media.

Conte agreed with Sarno's comments.

Other local school districts that have filed similar lawsuits against social media companies include Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Seneca Valley, Mars Area, Knoch and Moniteau school districts.

© 2023 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.