Social media apps have had such a detrimental effect on youth throughout Bucks County — and the nation at large — that officials in the suburban Philadelphia county have brought a lawsuit to the developers of five of the largest social media apps.
In announcing the 110-page lawsuit, that was filed Tuesday night in California, Bucks County officials said that developers of social media apps — specifically Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram — designed their products to be addictive, and purposely targeted young people in ways that have led to a mental health crisis that the county is still grappling with.
In fact, Joe Khan, Bucks County solicitor, said that this lawsuit is similar to a case the county brought against companies that profited off the opioid crisis.
Only here, he said, instead of providing a new drug to users, these companies focused on one that is already in the human body — dopamine.
“The algorithms they are using aren’t accidently getting children addicted. They are purposely getting children addicted to using their products and they are doing it in insidious ways,” he said.
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When asked just what the county is seeking through the lawsuit, Khan said that they want compensation for the costs taxpayers have incurred through bearing the burden of the ongoing mental health crisis, but also they want these companies to change their practices.
“We want our damages. We want reimbursement and we want them to knock it off,” he said.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub said that he supported the lawsuit because it’s time to protect children from the harms of social media. He called the lawsuit a “David versus Goliath” situation, because of how large these apps are and the sweeping impact they have had on the lives of youth throughout the community.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked or besieged by parents who just don’t know where to turn because their children are suicidal or they suffer from anxiety or depression,” the district attorney said. “And this phenomenon, I think, corresponds with the advent and propensation of social media that has targeted our youth.”
His office presented the lawsuit, claiming that the companies that own these apps — namely Meta, Google, Snap and others — have violated the state’s public nuisance laws and Pennsylvania’s unfair trade practices and consumer protection act.
But, most of all, when asked to explain why they decided to bring forth a lawsuit against these social media companies — when some might say it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor their children’s online activities — Bucks County commissioner, Gene Girolamo, said that even the most engaged parent can’t protect their kids from these companies’ practices.
“They knew exactly what they were doing. They were preying on young people,” he said.
DiGirolamo used SnapChat as an example, arguing that the app purposefully deletes interactions, making it more difficult for parents to monitor their child’s app usage.