Ontario school boards sue social media giants for $4.5 billion

Four major Ontario school boards are suing prominent social media companies, alleging that their platforms have had detrimental effects on children’s cognition, behavior, and learning, while also disrupting school operations. The Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa-Carleton public district school boards, along with Toronto’s Catholic counterpart, are seeking a total of $4.5 billion in damages from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. They claim that these companies knowingly created addictive products targeted at children and failed to ensure their safety.

The coalition, named Schools for Social Media Change, contends that excessive use of social media is contributing to attention, learning, and mental health crises among students. They accuse the platforms of facilitating cyberbullying, harassment, hate speech, and misinformation, which have resulted in increased violence and conflicts in schools. The strain on the school boards’ resources, including mental health programs, IT infrastructure, and administrative efforts, prompted them to seek compensation and demand safer product designs.

This lawsuit follows a similar one in the U.S., where over 30 states accused Meta Platforms Inc. of harming young people’s mental health through features on Instagram and Facebook. While the allegations have not been proven in court, the Ontario school boards are determined to hold the social media giants accountable for their products’ negative impact on students. Neinstein LLP, representing the school boards, asserts that these companies share responsibility for the problematic design elements and algorithms of their platforms. This legal action marks the first of its kind in Canada, with potential for more school boards to follow suit.

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