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| 1 minute read

Holding Social Media Accountable for Harm to Children

My law partner Debbie Ausburn just wrote a post discussing the effects of bullying on children.  As we all know from common experience, a lot of that bullying takes place on social media.  With the recent release of the Facebook Papers, we know that Meta -- the parent of such popular social media networks as Facebook and Instagram -- knew its product was doing serious mental health damage to children.  Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen came forward last year and  testified before Congress that Facebook prioritized its bottom line over the safety of its users, including children.

Now a number of law firms, including Alabama's Beasley Allen, have filed suits against Meta on the basis that they have unleashed a knowingly defective product.  Their suits raise a serious question:  in an age in which corporations have taken a strong stance in favor of corporate social responsibility, what is the obligation of a media corporation to prevent harm to child consumers?  Plaintiffs in the cases against Meta have children who suffered eating disorders, experienced depression and anxiety, and even committed suicide over the messages they received through social media.

These lawsuits should remind us that, whatever the legal responsibility, we certainly owe a moral responsibility to ensure that our products and services "do no harm" to our most vulnerable.  We as a society have cracked down on marketing of tobacco and alcohol to children because we know that the young, developing brain is more likely to become addicted to those drugs.  We prohibit children from watching sexual content because we know their hearts and minds aren't ready for it.  We also need to make sure that our companies are not profiting by creating for children an unattainable world of social perfection and happiness that is, at its heart, what social media presents.

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rawlings_tom, youth services law, insights