Ontario schools sue social media giants for $4.5B over harm to students

In an unprecedented legal move, four of Ontario’s major school boards are taking legal action against some of the world’s biggest social media companies. The boards are claiming that the design of these companies’ products has fundamentally altered the cognitive and behavioral patterns of children, adversely affecting their learning processes and the operational dynamics of schools. The Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa-Carleton public district school boards, together with the Catholic board of Toronto, are collectively seeking approximately $4.5 billion in damages from Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc., and ByteDance Ltd., the entities behind Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, respectively.

This collective, operating under the banner of Schools for Social Media Change, has voiced concerns over what it describes as an “attention, learning, and mental health crisis” among students, driven by the widespread and obsessive use of social media. According to their claims, these platforms not only exacerbate cyberbullying, harassment, and the spread of misinformation but also contribute to an increase in physical violence and conflicts within schools.

The school boards have taken particular issue with the platforms’ algorithms and design features, which they argue are deliberately engineered to expose students to harmful content. This includes material related to suicide, drug use, self-harm, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, hate speech, and sexually explicit content, especially that which promotes non-consensual sexual activities.

Addressing these issues has significantly drained the boards’ resources, necessitating increased expenditures on mental health support, IT infrastructure, and administrative efforts. The coalition is urging these social media conglomerates to cover the ensuing financial burdens imposed on the education system and to overhaul their product designs to ensure the safety and well-being of students.–Web Desk