The federal court ruling could open big tech to cases where parents claim that their child’s mental health is down to social media rather than their upbringing.
US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected the social media giants’ motion to dismiss the dozens of lawsuits accusing the companies of running platforms “addictive” to kids.
School districts across the US have filed suit against Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet, and Snap, alleging the companies cause physical and emotional harm to children.
Meanwhile, 42 states sued Meta last month over claims Facebook and Instagram “profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans.”
This order addresses the individual suits and “over 140 actions” taken against the companies.
At the ruling’s heart is the First Amendment and Section 230, which says online platforms shouldn’t be treated as the publishers of third-party content. The Judge said this did not shield Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat from liability.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers notes many of the claims laid out by the plaintiffs don’t “constitute free speech or expression,” as they have to do with alleged “defects” on the platforms themselves.
That includes having insufficient parental controls, no “robust” age verification systems, and a problematic account deletion process.
“Addressing these defects would not require that defendants change how or what speech they disseminate,” Judge Gonzalez Rogers writes.
“Parental notifications could plausibly empower parents to limit their children’s access to the platform or discuss platform use with them.”
Judge Gonzalez Rogers threw out some of the other “defects” identified by the plaintiffs because they’re protected under Section 230, such as offering a beginning and end to a feed, recommending children’s accounts to adults, the use of “addictive” algorithms, and not putting limits on the amount of time spent on the platforms.