Washougal School District joins lawsuit against social media giants

Suit says excessive use of social media is harming students’ mental health

The Washougal School District is joining a class-action lawsuit that claims that major social media applications are causing a mental health crisis among children and teenagers.

On Tuesday, April 25, the Washougal School Board voted to approve a resolution that states that the district will join the lawsuit, filed against the parent companies of Facebook and Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, Google and YouTube, by law firms Stevens Clay (Spokane) and Frantz Law Group (San Diego).

“(They) are among the largest social media companies in the country and the leaders in developing the algorithms that promote excessive social media use,” the resolution states. “Excessive use of social media is playing a major role in causing mental health problems for youth in our community, state and nation. Research confirms that excessive use of social media is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders and suicide in youth.”

Stevens Clay, P.S., is representing the WSD and other school districts in Washington state, according to Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology. The resolution states that the lawsuit “seeks to recover damages on behalf of schools to address the damage caused by defendants.”

The district is joining the lawsuit “due to mental health impacts on our students, caused by the excessive use of social media, fueled by the algorithms these companies developed to promote excessive use,” according to Brown.

“We do not have a list of the districts participating, as many are still working with their legal counsel and school boards,” Brown said. “Now that (our) board has approved the resolution, district staff will be working with legal counsel as they proceed.”

The WSD “has had to bear the burden of addressing the harms caused by students’ excessive use of social media,” according to the resolution.

“We see the impact (of social media use) every day — we see impacts of depression, negative self-thoughts, anxiety and difficulty navigating,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “We believe that exposure to negative influences from social media and algorithms are taking students to unhealthy sites and posts, (and) those things are not helpful. We have an ethical obligation to support our children. I believe that’s why the board has signed on to the resolution to enter into the lawsuit. We want to hold folks accountable, and more than anything else, we want our children protected. We take that responsibility very seriously because our children are our future, our future citizens, and if they’re not healthy, that’s not good for anybody.”

The district decided to join the social media lawsuit “for the same reason that (it) entered into the JUUL litigation” earlier this year, according to Templeton.

“There are things within our society that we believe are impacting our students in a negative way, and others feel similarly,” she said. “We are going to ask questions of those who are perhaps profiting from these industries that we believe have a negative impact on our students.”

The board approved a motion on Tuesday, March 28, to allow the district to execute a settlement agreement with JUUL Labs, the maker of JUUL brand cartridge-based e-cigarettes, accused of employing deceptive marketing practices targeting youth.

WSD joined hundreds of hundreds of other school districts across the United States, including the Camas School District, in a mass lawsuit that aimed to hold the vaping giant accountable for the youth vaping epidemic and the costs school districts throughout the United States have incurred trying to help students addicted to JUUL’s vaping products.

The district received a settlement of $18,000 from the settlement, according to Templeton.

“After paying attorney fees and other costs, there’ll be about $13,000 that the district will receive in two payments,” she said. “We can anticipate using that money towards mitigation of impact from the sale of JUUL products to students.”