Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP filed suit on March 13, 2023, on behalf of the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools over the youth-targeting business practices of social media companies including YouTube Inc., Snap Inc., and TikTok Inc.
The national tragedy of youth mental health is captured in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report. That report observes a steady and then accelerated increase in nearly all categories of risk between 2011 and 2021. The report also tracks social media use. As alleged in the complaint, leading experts agree that there is a troubling connection between social media use and increases in suicidal behavior and depression in youth.
"As outlined in the Complaint, there is hard science behind the claim that social media is fueling a mental health epidemic in school-age children," explained San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee. "Every day schools are dealing with the fallout, which includes distracted students, increased absences, more children diagnosed with ADHD, cyber-bullying that carries into the classroom, and even physical damage to our San Mateo Schools, an example is the vandalism caused by the TikTok so-called 'Devious Lick Challenge' at the start of the school year."
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was this case filed?
As alleged in the Complaint, there is hard science demonstrating the claim that social media is fueling a mental health epidemic in school-age children. Every day schools are dealing with the fallout, which includes distracted students, increased absences, more children diagnosed with ADHD, cyber-bullying that carries into the classroom, and even physical damage to the school campuses.
What does San Mateo hope to achieve?
The San Mateo County Board of Education and Superintendent Magee seek to shine a light on the negative impacts teachers are seeing as the result of social media. Part of the case is about educating the public, parents, and students about how Big Tech is using advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to push harmful content and keep youth tied to their screens and social media products. The case seeks injunctive relief to change defendants’ practices and seeks recover damages to help defray the costs schools are incurring to address social media issues, including school counseling, educational programs (regarding social media), and damage to school property.
Is there a precedent for this type of case?
Yes. The case alleges that social media defendants have created a “public nuisance.” There is a long track record of governmental entities standing up to companies that create public nuisances. Recent examples are In Re National Prescription Opiate Litigation and In re: Juul Labs, Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation. San Mateo County is a plaintiff in the Opiate litigation, which has already returned funds to our County. The San Mateo County Board of Education and its Superintendent (and several local school districts) are plaintiffs in the Juul case, where a partial settlement is pending.
How is San Mateo paying for the case? Is taxpayer money being used for the lawsuit?
We are represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP on a contingent basis, meaning our counsel is paid only if there is a recovery in the case. Thus, no taxpayer dollars will be used in this litigation.
Now that the case is on file, what are the next steps?
We expect that the Federal Court will consider whether all the school district lawsuits should be coordinated together, and whether the school district lawsuits should be coordinated with the existing MDL which has combined personal injury claims against social media companies (In re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 3047)); (2) the social media defendants will be required to respond to the lawsuits, including the Complaint filed by the San Mateo County Board of Education and the Superintendent; and (3) plaintiffs will engage in discovery related to defendants’ platforms and the manner in which they engage with children.