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Nearly 200 School Districts Are Suing Social Media Platforms

Nearly 200 School Districts Are Suing Social Media Platforms

Plus: court strikes down Arizona law against filming cops, GOP candidates want to cut Social Security for young people, and more…


Lawyers seek to cash in on tech panic by enlisting school districts to sue. The number of school districts suing social media companies for allegedly harming children is multiplying quickly. “Nearly 200 school districts so far have joined the litigation against the parent companies of Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “The suits have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., along with hundreds of suits by families alleging harms to their children from social media.”

The lawsuits come as part of a growing movement to childproof the internet. In Congress and in states across the country, lawmakers are proposing measures to make websites verify visitor ages, block minors from having accounts, and more.

But the school district lawsuits also represent a novel strategy in the war on social media.

So far, this war has largely taken the form of state prosecutors and federal agencies suing tech companies, alleging antitrust violations. Or it’s come in the form of (unconstitutionallaws restricting editorial discretion exercised by social media platforms.

We’ve also seen civil lawsuits filed by individuals and families who say social media companies contributed to terrorist attackssex trafficking ventures, or kids and teens engaging in risky behavior; most of these have been thrown out because Section 230 immunizes platforms against civil suits based on third-party speech. School districts suing, however, is relatively new.

“School districts say teachers and administrators waste valuable time responding to cyberbullying and other disciplinary problems, adding new training and school policies around social-media use, and counseling youths whose addiction to online apps is leading to anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts,” reports the Journal.

The schools’ reasoning seems flimsy. Evidence that social media causes widespread mental health issues in minors is scarce. Bullying among teens is an issue with or without social media. And—like it or not—responding to behavioral, mental health, and interpersonal issues among students is simply part of running an educational institution. School administrators might like some special payout from tech companies to help them do their jobs, but there’s no real practical, moral, or legal justification for granting this.

The schools argue that Section 230 doesn’t apply here because “social-media companies have created an addictive product that pushes destructive content to youth—and that a product, unlike content, doesn’t enjoy Section 230 protections,” notes the Journal.

This is just the latest version of an argument that’s been made in courts many times: that it’s the way social media companies are set up—their product design, their functionality, their algorithms, etc.—that causes harm, not the third-party speech they transmit per se. But this argument doesn’t pass the common sense test: if the underlying content is not an issue—if it’s speech that is perfectly benign and unlikely to trigger any ill feelings or fixating or “addiction” in teens—then how can the way it’s being presented be an issue?

It’s also an argument that doesn’t pass legal muster, with judge after judge throwing out lawsuits that try to circumvent Section 230 by saying their claims are about product design or functionality and not speech. The tech companies are correct when they wrote in a joint brief last month that “the alleged defects” in their products “are inescapably linked to the publication of third-party content.”

Each new trend in civil suits against tech companies seems driven by enterprising lawyers seeking a payout. And, as the Journal article makes clear, this one is no exception:

“Plaintiffs’ lawyers are pitching school boards throughout the country to file lawsuits against social-media companies on allegations that their apps cause classroom disciplinary problems and mental-health issues, diverting resources from education,” notes the Journal. “William Shinoff, a lawyer with California firm Frantz Law Group, said he has personally presented to more than 100 board meetings and that his firm has 500 school districts signed up to sue. … His firm and others typically sign agreements giving the lawyers 25% of any recovery.”


A federal court has struck down an Arizona law that limited the filming of cops. The rule in question—signed into law by former Gov. Doug Ducey last year—made it illegal to film police officers from a distance of 8 feet or closer if the police told the person filming to stop. U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi temporarily halted enforcement of the law in a ruling last year. On Friday, he permanently blocked its enforcement. “The law prohibits or chills a substantial amount of First Amendment protected activity and is unnecessary to prevent interference with police officers given other Arizona laws in effect,” Tuchi wrote in his decision.


Republican candidates let some Social Security realism creep in. Republicans are often just as loathe to discuss Social Security cuts as their Democratic counterparts. So it’s refreshing to see some 2024 GOP presidential candidates admit that the old-age benefits program can’t continue on its current trajectory forever. Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley “are pushing for cuts to Social Security benefits that would only affect younger Americans,” The Washington Post reports:
In comments on Sunday as well as in interviews earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Social Security will need to be revamped — but not for people who are near or in retirement.

Former vice president Mike Pence and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley have taken similar positions since launching their presidential campaigns. From the earliest days of his 2016 run, Trump has vowed not to touch either Social Security or Medicare — a break from GOP orthodoxy that has shifted the party’s views — and has more recently hammered DeSantis for wanting to cut the program.

“When people say that we’re going to somehow cut seniors, that is totally not true,” DeSantis said on Fox News. “Talking about making changes for people in their 30s and their 40s so the program’s viable — that’s a much different thing, and something I think there’s going to need to be discussion on.”

On Monday, Pence told Fox Business: “I’m glad to see another candidate in this primary has been willing to step up and talk about that.”

Of course, as Howard Gleckman of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center told the Post,  focusing on cuts in the distant future “clearly would not address the shortfall, or the short- to medium-term problem we’re going to have in 10 years or less.”


• “People love a rescue story, which is why Sound of Freedom is doing so well at the box office,” writes Kaytlin Bailey. “But our obsession with stories about good guys with guns rescuing innocent victims has fueled policies that hurt the very people we claim to be trying to help.”

• The last Hollywood writers’ strike fueled the rise of reality TV. “The latest walkout likely will help turn established actors into TikTok stars — and vice versa,” suggests The Washington Post.

• Joshua Bosire was pulled over in 2019 for driving seven miles above the speed limit. He’s now “one of five motorists — detained by state troopers between 2017 and 2019 — to argue that the Kansas Highway Patrol violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure,” reports Tobi Raji. “On Friday, a federal judge agreed.”

• A new USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll of Ohio voters found that a proposal to amend the state Constitution to guarantee reproductive freedom, including the right to an abortion, is “backed by a double-digit margin, 58%-32%. Significant support crossed partisan lines, including a third of Republicans,” notes USA Today.

• How foster-parent red tape hurts families and taxpayers.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a senior editor at Reason, where she writes regularly on the intersections of sex, speech, tech, crime, politics, panic, and civil liberties. She is also co-founder of the libertarian feminist group Feminists for Liberty.

Since starting at Reason in 2014, Brown has won multiple awards for her writing on the U.S. government’s war on sex. Brown’s writing has also appeared in The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesThe Daily BeastBuzzfeedPlayboyFox NewsPoliticoThe Week, and numerous other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @ENBrown.


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