Social Media Victims

We’re a personal injury law firm committed to the recovery of teens and families who suffered from the addictive nature of social media platforms.

Recently, social media companies have come under scrutiny for the harms of their platforms and their responsibilities to warn and prevent them. Chief among those harms is social media addiction, which has links to other serious physical injuries from current academic studies. Claims are currently being brought against these companies for injuries from teens addicted to social media. We explain the issues involved in social media addiction cases in more detail below and guide injured teenagers and families with questions about the merits of a claim.

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What Is Social Media Addiction?

Addiction is a mental illness that occurs when our brain repeatedly and uncontrollably craves the perceived reward from a substance because of the positive chemical signals it gives us, such as the release of dopamine. While we often think of addiction from substances like alcohol and drugs, recent studies suggest addiction can also develop using social media. Estimates from psychologists suggest between 5 and 10 percent of Americans grapple with social media addiction in some capacity—usually being overly concerned with social media and usage that interferes with the rest of their life. Some signs of social media addiction could include the following:

  • Favorable mood changes when engaged with social media
  • Increased use of social media over time
  • Withdrawal symptoms and conflict because of usage
  • Relapse following a period of abstinence from social media

How Prevalent Is Teen Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction could happen to anyone regardless of age, but studies show the condition is especially strong within younger populations. This includes teenagers whose brains are still developing and remain highly impressionable when interacting with social media. Teenagers generally lack full control of key cognitive abilities such as risk evaluation, emotional control, and impulse control, all of which place them at a greater risk of developing an addiction. They are the same reasons we have age restrictions for the use of other substances, such as drinking and smoking.

Data from the Pew Research Center further highlights the prevalence of social media addiction within American teenage populations. First, results show practically all teens (95 percent) have access to a smartphone or another device with social media capabilities, such as a laptop (90 percent) or a gaming console (80 percent). Second, with that access, 97 percent of teens report daily internet usage with an astonishing 46 percent reporting their usage as constant. Lastly, over half of U.S. teens believe it would be hard for them to give up social media, and over one-third of U.S. teens say they spend too much time on social media.

The Risks for Teens Addicted to Social Media

Unfortunately, the risks of social media addiction for teens can be severe with harms that are both emotional and physical. Several recent studies provide evidence between social media addiction and its harmful consequences for teenagers. Bridging the gap in that correlation is the exposure teenagers receive to emotional and behavioral concerns, including the following:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Body image and internalization of the “thin ideal”
  • Being victims of sexual harassment and exploitation
  • Data privacy, hacking, and other internet scams
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Other negative effects of social comparisons

All of these harmful actions contribute to an increased risk of aggravating other mental health issues, including anxiety and major depressive disorder (MDD). For example, one study found that depression was more common in teenagers who followed only strangers on Instagram compared to those who followed only friends. The greater likelihood of developing MDD puts teenagers at risk for self-harm and suicide—the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24 in the U.S. As evidence, the results of psychological autopsies reveal 60 percent of adolescent suicide victims met the criteria for clinical depression at the time of death. The dangers of social media addiction for teenagers are very real and leave everyone wondering—who should be held accountable?

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Social Media Addiction Lawsuits for Harmed Teens and Their Families

In the last couple of years, news reports show the companies behind social media platforms could be largely responsible for social media addiction. Lawsuits in places like California and other jurisdictions are gaining traction and will be instrumental in the recovery of injured teenagers as well as their families. Below, we explain why social media companies could be at fault and how these types of lawsuits could proceed in the future.

How Could Social Media Companies Be Liable to Victims of Social Media Addiction?

Recent news reporting on internal studies and research from the world’s largest social media companies shows that leaders of these organizations are aware of the harm their products cause. For example, an Instagram 2019 study by Instagram indicated its platform worsened body image issues for one out of three teenage girls, leading to problems with eating disorders and self-harm. Another report claimed Facebook (Meta, Inc.) exempted many of its celebrity and political users from compliance with its community standards as part of an internal program called XCheck. In October 2021, a former Meta employee testified before Congress and claimed that executives at the company made marketing and other business decisions that placed its teenage users at risk of harmful effects.

While social media platforms are aware of the problems their networks and applications are creating for teenagers, they appear to have little interest or incentive to take corrective action independently. Rather, social media companies rely on the ability of their algorithms and designs to increase the time teenagers and others spend on their platforms, which could contribute to the development of social media addiction. The data on views and engagement is what allows them to generate revenue from advertising and other sources.

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Current Lawsuits for Teens Addicted to Social Media

More injured teenagers and their parents are starting to fight against the harms of social media addiction from responsible companies by filing lawsuits in state and federal court.

For example, a recent opinion from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided Snapchat could be liable under consumer protection laws for having dangerous features and making the app defective. The facts of that case involved Snapchat’s speed filter, the use of which led to teenagers and adolescents driving at dangerous speeds that caused fatal accidents. The company has since canceled the feature, but other examples of potentially harmful features that could lead to defective product status might include the following:

  • Features that encourage dangerous activities from users
  • Applications that aid illegal activities such as drug deals or sexual exploitation
  • Anonymous messaging that increases opportunities for cyberbullying

Since that lawsuit, many other families have come forward with claims of similar harms that could have a connection to the irresponsible management of social media companies. One of those plaintiffs with an addiction claim against Instagram, recently brought a motion through the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate these claims into a single class action lawsuit. The JPML agreed to the consolidation and assigned the new case to the U.S. Northern District of California because it is where most of the defendant companies have their headquarters. The name of the case is In re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Prod. Liab. Lit. – MDL No. 3047.

Will Social Media Addiction Lawsuits Be Successful?

Social media addiction lawsuits involve many novel claims, complex legal theories, and unproven defenses. All of these factors make it difficult to forecast with certainty how these claims will proceed at trial and possible appeal. However, we know the key issues that will be central to each side’s argument.
The lawsuit involves claims of negligence and product liability, and central to those claims are the harmed teenagers’ (and their families’) ability to prove causation. They must be able to show that the social media companies’ actions or lack thereof, were more likely than not the cause of the physical harm teenagers experienced. The plaintiffs have two possible avenues for showing this causation:

  1. The design of the social media applications made them addictive and, as a result, unreasonably dangerous to adolescents.
  2. The social media platforms failed to provide adequate warning to minor users and their families about the risks of social media addiction and its ability to cause harm.

Expert testimony from academics and others on the existence of physical addiction to the social media platforms will be key to moving the case forward. While we discussed examples of studies evidencing the links to social media addiction among teenagers, we don’t know if these types of studies will survive the academic scrutiny necessary for admission as evidence into court.

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Do Social Media Companies Have Immunity from Addiction Claims under 47 U.S.C. § 230?

In the past, social media companies have been immune from claims involving physical injury related to the use of their platforms under 47 U.S.C. § 230. This federal law extends immunity from liability for the content that third parties post to their platforms. However, the extent of protection under this law is currently under review at the U.S. Supreme Court as social media companies as others, including political figures, criticize them for not taking more action to remove disinformation and other harmful content.

This defense will likely be made in the lawsuits claiming liability for teens with social media addiction. However, immunity under 47 U.S.C. § 230 is not likely to apply because the claims are not over the content of third parties. Rather, the claims are over the negligence of the social media companies for the harms of their algorithms and other technology.

What Could the Potential Settlement Value of a Social Media Addiction Lawsuit Be?

If the claims for social media addiction are successful, the next question will be the potential settlement value or judgment from the bench or jury. Determining the value of a settlement is also difficult to predict with any certainty because of the many factors that could apply to the calculation of damages. One of those factors is the nature of the harm which could have varying degrees of value. For example, a claim involving a wrongful death suicide could have far greater value than a claim involving more minor cases of self-harm or mental disorders.

However, we can speculate what the high-end value of these settlements would be assuming a wrongful death suicide would present the highest potential payout. For a teenager with a standard life expectancy, the value could range between $1.5 to $5 million, depending on other circumstances like pre-existing conditions.

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FAQ: Social Media Addiction Lawsuits

Below are some answers to the most common questions about teenage social media addiction lawsuits.

Do Social Media Companies Have Legal Immunity from Addiction Claims?

As discussed in the previous section, social media companies have only had immunity from the harms of third-party content posted to their applications under 47 U.S.C. § 230. However, social media addiction focuses on the conduct of the social media companies in designing and managing their platforms, which is not likely to have protection under federal law.

What Is the Potential Statute of Limitations on a Social Media Addiction Lawsuit?

Social media addiction lawsuits are claims for personal injury or wrongful death and the amount of time you have to file a claim generally depends on the date of the injury. Each state has its own time limitation for filing a claim which often ranges between 2-3 years. For example, California, the venue for the social media addiction class action has a statute of limitations of 2 years.

What Types of Injuries Could Apply to a Social Media Addiction Case?

The most common types of physical injury that are likely to apply under a claim for social media addiction could include the following:

  • Suicide and other wrongful death
  • Self-harm (e.g., cutting or burning)
  • Mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • Eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia

For more on involvement in a lawsuit for teens addicted to social media, schedule a consultation today.