The four largest school boards in the province of Ontario (Canada) have filed a lawsuit against the social networks TikTok (owned by the Chinese company ByteDance), SnapChat (Snap Inc.) and Facebook, Instagram and Threads (owned by Meta Corporation). The plaintiffs allege that social media platforms prevent children from not only learning but also living full lives because they are designed to be “coerced” and change the way “children think, behave and learn” and teachers are forced to cope with the consequences.

Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education at the Toronto School Board, said teachers and parents are noticing a number of troubling behavioural signs in children who spend more and more time on social media.

There’s no denying the impact of social media on today’s youth in school. This leads to common problems like inattention, withdrawal from communication, cyberbullying, rapid escalation of aggression, and mental health issues. We call for action to be taken to mitigate this harm and to prioritise the mental health and academic success of our future generation.

The plaintiffs – the Toronto School Board, the Peel Region School Board, the Toronto Catholic Schools Board and the Ottawa-Carleton School Board – are seeking more than C$4 billion ($2.9 billion) in damages from the defendants for disrupting the educational process and education system. If school boards lose in court, their lawyers will not receive any fees.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the lawsuit “nonsense.” The plaintiffs’ lawyers have a different opinion. Duncan Embery, a lawyer at the school boards firm, says there is a real problem with addiction to Meta-built algorithms, and that companies have deliberately designed their products to maximize the time young people spend on social media, paying for it with their own health and well-being.

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