Consumer Fraud Protection

Algorithm Harm: Social Media & Teen Mental Health

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Nothing can prepare a parent for the detrimental effects social media can have on a child. What may first appear as harmless fun can turn tragic seemingly overnight. When the worst happens, parents are often left wondering why.

Sadly, social media usage has allegedly been linked to rising rates of self-harm, suicide ideation and eating disorders in children as young as 10. While the true cost of social media is only just beginning to take shape, recent studies have shown that insidious attacks on the mental health of vulnerable teens and children are all too commonplace across numerous social platforms, including: 

  • Facebook 
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp

Some now allege that this largely unregulated industry treats the wellbeing of innocent children as collateral damage in the race for user growth and profits. Our attorneys are reviewing these accusations to help support impacted families in their search for answers. If your family is struggling with the dangerous effects of social media, you are not alone.    

Motley Rice is reviewing allegations that Facebook Inc. (known as Meta Platforms, Inc. starting 10/28/2021) intentionally and deliberately designed its social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp without regard to the safety of our children. Specifically, Motley Rice is reviewing allegations that the social media giant:

  • Created algorithms that lead children to dangerous content often promoting eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, suicide attempts and suicide
  • Marketed itself as safe for children over 12, while knowing that the software was particularly dangerous to adolescent and teenage girls
  • Failed to warn parents or social media users of the known negative health effects associated with use of the platform

Contact Us

If your child attempted or committed suicide, was engaged in other self-harm or was diagnosed with an eating disorder that you believe was worsened due to social media, know that our thoughts are with you and your family. You may contact attorney Jonathan Orent by phone at 1.800.768.4026 or complete this form at any time to talk through your family’s situation and any potential legal options you may have. If you choose to speak with one of our lawyers, you should know that we understand the sensitive nature of your potential case and will do everything in our power to keep your information private.

The hidden dangers of social media 

In October 2021, a former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower told members of Congress that the social media giant is well aware that its algorithmic systems, which are designed to increase and prolong user engagement, can have damaging effects on vulnerable individuals, including children. Facebook’s parent company, now known as Meta, is capable of doing more to prioritize the wellbeing of children, the whistleblower alleged, but profits simply come first in the company’s culture. 

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” Facebook wrote in a 2019 internal presentation according to documents that were revealed through a Wall Street Journal investigation. The presentation summarized research about teen girls who experienced issues after using Facebook.

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posed to Facebook’s internal message board, according to The Wall Street Journal report. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

Read the full report from The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 15, 2021): “The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation

Bombshell testimony by the Facebook whistleblower renewed public scrutiny of the company within weeks of The Wall Street Journal report being released, but this issue isn’t limited to just Facebook. A 2019 study published by Current Opinion in Psychiatry titled “Social media, internet use and suicide attempts in adolescents” reviewed multiple social media platforms and concluded: 

“Current evidence suggests that excessive or ‘problematic’ use of social media/internet does impact suicide risk, specifically increasing the risk of suicide attempts. … As internet and social media platforms develop, more understanding of the specific risks and mechanisms associated with different types of digital activity, by different population groups will be essential to understand risk and pave the way for specific interventions.”

Another 2019 study published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders reviewed nearly 1,000 children averaging 13 years old and found the more social media accounts the children had and the more time spent using them, the more likely they were to display disordered eating and in increasing severity:  “A clear pattern of association was found between [social media] usage and [disordered eating] cognitions and behaviors with this exploratory study confirming that these relationships occur at younger-age than previously investigated.”

In 2017, Facebook co-founder, Sean Parker, told Axios in an interview, that the social network was built to exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology. He was quoted saying “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

In need of help?

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide ideation, you should know that free, confidential support is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK]. Visit the Lifeline online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), is also available online at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or by phone toll-free at 1-800-931-2237. 

In the news 

The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 3, 2022): What Parents Can Do When Kids Have Suicidal Thoughts

The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 15, 2021): The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation

Medical News Today (Jan. 17, 2022): Does social media impact mental health? What we really know

NPR (Oct. 5, 2021): Here are 4 key points from the Facebook whistleblower's testimony on Capitol Hill

The New York Times (Oct. 22, 2021): Eating Disorders and Social Media Prove Difficult to Untangle

HealthDay News (Dec. 5, 2019): More Teen Time on Social Media, More Eating Disorders?

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