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Canada: Educators sue social sites for disrupting learning

March 29, 2024

Four Canadian school boards have filed lawsuits against TikTok, Meta and SnapChat. They accuse the social media platforms of interfering with student learning.

Close - up finger pointing to Facebook mobile app displayed on a smartphone screen alongside that of other social media apps
In Canada, as around the world, the use of social media by teens is almost universalImage: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Four school boards in Canada said Thursday they have filed separate lawsuits in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against TikTok, Meta and Snapchat, seeking at least Can$4 billion (US$3 billion or €2.7 billion) from the companies behind the popular apps.

The three boards in Toronto and one in Ottawa claim the social media platforms are disrupting student learning. They also urged the companies to redesign their apps to make them less addictive.

What do school boards say?

The lawsuits claim platforms like Facebook and Instagram are "designed for compulsive use, have rewired the way children think, behave, and learn" and teachers have been left to manage the fallout.

Rachel Chernos, a trustee for the Toronto District School Board, said teachers and parents are noticing social withdrawal, anxiety, attention problems, cyber bullying and mental health issues.

"These companies have knowingly created programs that are addictive that are aimed and marketed at young people and it is causing significant harm and we just can't stand by any longer and not speak up about it," Chernos said.

"Students are experiencing an attention, learning and mental health crisis because of prolific and compulsive use of social media products," the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said in a statement.

How does social media cause stress?

Addiction issue

Duncan Embury, a lawyer with the firm representing the boards, said there is a real addiction problem with the algorithms designed.

Embury said proper warnings are required, age parameters must be altered, and there needs to be an increase in the level of resources school boards receive to adapt to the new reality.

He also said that companies have knowingly and negligently designed their products to maximize the amount of time young people spend on their platforms at the expense of their well-being and education.

Social media – platforms with addictive potential

Platforms under attack in the United States

Dozens of US states, including California and New York, are also suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harming young people and contributing to a youth mental health crisis by knowingly and intentionally designing features that keep children addicted to its platforms.

This week, a bill banning social media accounts for children under 14 and requiring parental permission for 14- and 15-year-olds was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican. It takes effect January 1 and is expected to face legal challenges.

Social media use among teens is nearly universal in the US and many other parts of the world. Nearly all teens aged 13 to 17 in the US report using a social media platform, with about one-third saying they use social media "almost constantly," according to the Pew Research Center.

dh/jsi (AP, AFP)