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Judge González Rogers’ ruling on the activity of large technology companies in digital networks and platforms: the influence on minors and adolescents.

 

Since 2022, individuals, and subsequently, different school districts across the U.S., have filed lawsuits against Meta (which operates Facebook and Instagram), ByteDance (which operates TikTok), Alphabet (which operates Google and YouTube) and Snap (which operates Spapshat). The argument was that such companies would be causing physical and emotional harm to children by their practices to get them addicted to their various digital platforms. In the aftermath, 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, also sued Meta alleging that Facebook and Instagram“profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans”.

 

On that basis, on November 14, 2023, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled on the request of the defendants (Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet and Snap), who asked to dismiss the lawsuit against them.

 

However, in a 52-page order, after a detailed review of the pleadings and briefing submitted by the parties, the Court granted only in part the motions to dismiss, which dealt with points of the plaintiffs’ “product liability” claims.

 

In that order, Judge Gonzalez Rogers also concluded that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the First Amendment do not prohibit plaintiffs from bringing a negligence per se claim. The defendants claimed that Section 230 granted immunity from liability for any content posted on their platforms by users of their platforms. However, Judge Gonzalez Rogers ruled that the plaintiffs’ claims were broader than the mere argument related to content posted by third parties on the defendants’ digital platforms, adding that the defendants did not address why they should not be liable for developing and providing faulty parental controls, failing to help users limit screen time or creating hurdles to deactivating accounts.

 

In addition, the present case is of interest because the order had to address individual claims and more than 140 class actions filed against the companies.

 

What does this order mean for defendants Meta, ByteDance, Alphabet and Snap? That lawsuits alleging that its digital platforms and social networks have adverse effects on children’s mental health, causing them to become addicted, go – in part – forward.

 

Although the process is at an early stage, the order keeps part of the claims alive and paves the way for the defendants to file and disclose internal documents that would potentially expose how far Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube may have gone to attract and engage young users at the expense of their well-being.

 

“Today’s decision is a significant victory for the families that have been harmed by the dangers of social media”, the lead attorneys representing the plaintiffs say in a joint statement.

 

Google spokesman Jose Castañeda says the plaintiffs’ allegations are “simply not true”, and that Google has “built age-appropriate experiences for children and families on YouTube, and provides parents with robust controls”.