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Five Ontario school boards, two schools join lawsuit against Snapchat, TikTok and Meta

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Five additional school boards and two private schools in Ontario have joined a lawsuit against Snapchat, TikTok, and Meta, alleging the social media giants are harming students’ well-being and stunting academic growth.

In late March, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Peel District School Board (PDSB), Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) announced a joint lawsuit of $4.5 billion against the popular social media platforms.

The most recent lawsuits, totalling almost $2.6 billion, were filed on Tuesday by the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB), Trillium Lakeland District School Board (TLDSB), Ottawa Catholic District School Board (OCSB), and the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN).

Two Ontario private schools, Mississauga’s Holy Name of Mary College School and Toronto’s Eitz Chaim, are also included.

A spokesperson for Schools for Social Media Change said the lawsuits filed by the school boards and schools claim social media products have rewired how children think, behave, and learn.

“The mix of public and Catholic school boards, and private schools in both urban and rural regions of Ontario demonstrate this is a universal issue that affects those from diverse cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds,” the news release states.

According to 2021 data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), approximately 91 per cent of Ontario students in grades 7-12 use social media daily, and 31 per cent of these students use social media for five hours or more a day.

Handling of social media apps in schools taking a toll on educators

The lawsuit, led by Toronto-based boutique litigation firm Neinstein LLP, calls on social media giants to redesign their products to keep students safe. The various Ontario school board directors and officials issued statements on Wednesday.

“Our board believes that extraordinary lives start with a great Catholic education. However, our students’ education is being disrupted by the impact of social media products,” said Marianne Mazzorato, Director of Education at the DPCDSB.

“This is why we have joined the many schools and boards across the province in their fight for restoring academic success for our future leaders.”

black iphone 4 on black textile
The social media app TikTok is shown on a mobile device. Photo: Unsplash.

Kelly Pisek, Director of Education of the District School Board of Niagara, said social media increasingly hinders students’ ability to absorb lessons, think critically and thrive in learning spaces.

“As a result, school staff are required to spend more time working to meet the needs of students who face significant attention, focus and mental health concerns.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was critical of the initial lawsuits, saying in March school boards should put resources into students rather than a legal fight over “this other nonsense.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce backed up those comments Wednesday. He said the government was choosing to “collaborate with these enterprises.”

He cited the government’s plan to ban cellphone use during class time and block access to social media platforms on school networks and devices, and suggested school boards should have taken those steps themselves, “years ago.”

“Instead of talking about it and litigating about it, we opt to act decisively with a comprehensive plan,” he said.

Meta Inc., TikTok, Snapchat comment on latest lawsuit

In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta Inc., the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, Threads and WhatsApp, tells CityNews that tech officials are actively working to provide students with “safe, supportive experiences online.”

“We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and their families, including tools that allow parents to decide when, and for how long, their teens use Instagram, age verification technology, automatically setting accounts belonging to those under 16 to private when they join Instagram, and sending notifications encouraging teens to take regular breaks,” Meta said.

Meta said it’s also invested in technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-injury or eating disorders.

“These are complex issues, but we will continue working with experts and listening to parents to develop new tools, features and policies that are effective and meet the needs of teens and their families.”

A spokesperson for TikTok has said its team of “safety professionals” continually evaluate practices to support teens’ well-being, while Snapchat has said it’s happy with the role it plays in helping friends stay connected as they face the challenges of adolescence.

A Snapchat spokesperson noted that it intends to defend the claims made in the lawsuits.

“Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends. Snapchat opens directly to a camera – rather than a feed of content – and has no traditional public likes or comments.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Hundreds of school boards in the United States and some states have launched similar lawsuits against social media companies.

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