New York City Sues TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube for Harming Kids’ Mental Health

New York City sues TikTok over mental health concerns for kids
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New York City sues TikTok over mental health concerns for kids
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Photo Credit: NYC Mayor’s Office

New York City is filing a lawsuit against five social media platforms — TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube — for harming kids’ mental health nationwide.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, alongside the city’s Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds Radix, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, NYC Health + Hospitals (NYC H+H) President Dr. Michell Katz, and New York City Department of Education Chancellor David C. Banks, announced the filing of a lawsuit against five social media platforms — TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube — to hold them accountable for “fueling the nationwide youth mental health crisis.”

The city is joining hundreds of school districts across the country in filing litigation to force tech giants to change their behavior and recover the costs of addressing the public health crisis. New York City reports spending over $100 million on youth mental health programs and services annually.

Further, Mayor Adams has released a “social media action plan,” titled “New York City’s Role in the National Crisis of Social Media and Youth Mental Health: Framework for Action,” to hold social media companies accountable, provide education and support to young people and their families, and study the long-term impacts of social media on youth.

The announcement builds on the New York City Health Commissioner’s Advisory that DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Vasan submitted last month, which identifies “unfettered access to and use of social media as a public health hazard, just as past US surgeons general have done with tobacco and firearms.” The advisory includes recommendations for parents and caregivers, health care providers, educators, and policymakers on actions to take to protect children, including recommending the delay of social media use until age 14.

“Over the past decade, we have seen just how addictive and overwhelming the online world can be, exposing our children to a non-stop stream of harmful content and fueling our national youth mental health crisis,” says Mayor Adams. “Our city is built on innovation and technology, but many social media platforms end up endangering our children’s mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behavior.”

“Today, we’re taking bold action on behalf of millions of New Yorkers to hold these companies accountable for their role in this crisis, and we’re building on our work to address this public health hazard. This lawsuit and action plan are part of a larger reckoning that will shape the lives of our young people, our city, and our society for years to come.”

“These companies have chosen profit over the wellbeing of children by intentionally designing their platforms with manipulative and addictive features and using harmful algorithms targeted to young people,” added Corporation Counsel Hinds-Radix. “Social media companies should be held accountable for this misconduct and for the harms they cause to our children, schools,and entire communities.”

The lawsuit alleges that companies intentionally design their platforms to manipulate and addict children and teens to social media applications with features including: algorithms to generate feeds that keep users on platforms longer while encouraging compulsive use, using gambling-adjacent mechanics in the design of apps, and manipulating users through reciprocity such as notifying users when their message was seen or sending notifications when a message was delivered — all encouraging return use of these platforms to perpetuate engagement.

New York City’s efforts fall on the heels of a recent proposed ban filed in Virginia, specifically aimed at TikTok, which failed to gain traction and died this week in the state’s legislature.