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School Districts Say Social Media, Gaming Addiction Is Costing Them Millions

When the new year broke, so did the news that Meta, parent of Instagram and Facebook, was being sued for intentionally unleashing harmful algorithms targeted at children. We further reported at AddictionNews when Mark Zuckerburg appeared in court to argue he should not be held liable for the behavior of Facebook or Instagram.

All over the world, governments are waking up to the fact that social media companies are using smartphones to hoover up data on kids and sell their hijacked attention spans to advertisers. The same smartphones and social media sites create a channel that leaves children open to attacks from bullies, blackmailers, troublemakers, and thieves.

It’s come to the point where last week, three large Canadian school districts filed lawsuits against Meta, ByteDance (parent company of TikTok), and Snap (parent company of Snapchat) seeking C$4.5 billion for damages. The lawsuits argue that social media companies:

[…] deliberately targeted children with products designed to create compulsive behavior — causing disruption in the classroom and making kids more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

The lawsuits were filed separately by the Toronto School District, the Ottawa School District, and the Peel Region School District in suburban Toronto. The complaint lodged in Ontario Superior Court by the Toronto District School Board alleges, “Endemic social media use is causing an unprecedented youth mental health crisis.”

[A]bout half of Ontario students aren’t getting enough sleep in part because they’re hooked on the platforms, and psychological distress and body dysmorphia are commonplace. That’s forced the schools to spend millions on hiring social workers, youth counselors and other staff.

It’s not just social media companies that are getting sued. Epic Games, Roblox, Rockstar, Microsoft, and Activision Blizzard are among the companies facing lawsuits for “intentionally making players addicted to their games.” One of the lawsuits targets makers of popular games Roblox, Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Minecraft for embedding “addictive psychological features” into their games.

The lawsuits invoke a connection between compulsive gaming and damage to the brain’s reward systems, resulting in “addictive engagement, compulsive use, and additional mental and physical harm.” 

In a statement provided to PC Gamer, a trade group whose members include many of the game makers being sued, the Entertainment Software Association, said the companies “provide easy-to-use tools for players, parents and caregivers to manage numerous aspects of gameplay.” In other words, many of the games enable parents and caregivers to set time limits and content restrictions.

PC Gamer quotes a motion to dismiss the suits that they are “an attack on the First Amendment rights of videogame creators.” PC Gamer notes that many of the features the Canadian schools complain about are ones that gamers desire, such as being “fast play”; having loud, compelling audio; having realistic graphics; and having endless permutations (like chess) so it’s never boring. Game developers are being attacked for “features that make their games more attractive and challenging.”

You might as well call this game Supreme Court Action, because it will be years before the courts and the software companies hammer out just exactly what you can design into a product intended to be used by children.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published April 8, 2024.


“Canadian Schools Sue Meta, ByteDance and Snap Over Social Media Addiction,” Bloomberg, March 28, 2024.

“You can’t sue us for making games ‘too entertaining,’ say major game developers in response to addiction lawsuits,” PC Gamer, March 27, 2024.

Image Copyright: Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego, used under Creative Commons License CC 3.0


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