Judge Dismisses Some Harm Claims Against Meta, Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg and Meta Platforms has been handed some good news regarding the lawsuits alleging harming to children.

Reuters reported that on Monday Meta and Zuckerberg won the the dismissal of some claims in a dozen lawsuits accusing the CEO of concealing from the public that Facebook and Instagram were harmful to children.

Mostly recent Meta (and other social networks) were sued by New York City, over allegations their platforms are responsible for an increase in mental health issues among young people

Image credit: Pexels

Harm to children?

It comes after Meta in October 2023 was sued by dozens of US states, alleging Instagram and Facebook were harming children’s mental health.

Executives from social media platforms have repeatedly faced tough questions from US lawmakers during congressional hearings over how their platforms may direct younger users – and particularly teenage girls – to harmful content, damaging their mental health and body image.

Now according to the Reuters report, the dismissal ruling from US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, came in the sprawling litigation by children pursuing hundreds of lawsuits accusing Meta and other social media companies of addicting them to their platforms.

Twenty-five of those cases reportedly sought to hold Zuckerberg personally liable, alleging Meta’s founder created a false impression about the platforms’ safety despite repeated warnings they were unfit for children.

The plaintiffs reportedly argued that his public stature and outsized role as the “trusted voice on all things Meta” created a duty under several states’ laws for Zuckerberg to speak fully and truthfully on the risks its products posed to children.

Judge’s ruling

But Judge Rogers said the plaintiffs could not rely on Zuckerberg’s comparative knowledge about Meta’s products to establish he personally owed such a duty to each plaintiff.

Such a ruling, she reportedly said, would create “a duty to disclose for any individual recognizable to the public.”

“The court will not countenance such a novel approach here,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Meta reportedly declined to comment, and the firm denies wrongdoing.

Hundreds of lawsuits

Hundreds of lawsuits are reportedly pending before Judge Rogers filed on behalf of individual children against Meta and other social media companies, including Alphabet, which operates Google and YouTube; ByteDance, which operates TikTok; and Snap, which operates Snapchat.

The lawsuits say the children suffered physical, mental and emotional harm from social media use, including anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

The litigation seeks damages and a halt to the practices the defendants say are harmful. Several states and school districts have also filed lawsuits against Meta, which remain pending.

Social media firms have over the years faced many allegations that its services and platforms are not good for children. Parents continue to be concerned about the amount of time children are glued to their screens.

Cases such as 14-year-old Molly Russell in the UK, who took her own life after viewing self-harm images on Instagram, only increased concerns about online content.

But the allegation that social media is harmful to children has not been endorsed by experts.

In the UK in 2019 the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found that there was “not enough evidence to confirm that screen time was in itself harmful to child health at any age.”

Also in 2019 a study by Oxford University found the amount of time that teenagers spent on social media has a tiny impact on their life satisfaction. It concluded that “social media use is not, in and of itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction across the adolescent population.”

Instead it said that social media effects “are nuanced, small at best, reciprocal over time, gender specific, and contingent on analytic methods.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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