The self-harm or suicide of a child is an unthinkable reality for thousands of families each year. In the wake of this shocking tragedy, parents are left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of how their precious child could have been driven to hurt themselves. Child suicide and self-harm are preventable, and they can happen even when a child has loving, involved parents who do everything right. That’s because children can be exposed to bullying, unhealthy body images, racism, sexual exploitation, hateful words and actions, and a host of other problematic behaviors and content at school, on the playground, and especially online.
Researchers have linked social media use to poor body image, self-harm and self-destructive behaviors, and even suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Grieving and outraged (rightfully so) parents have turned to Facebook class action attorneys, Snapchat lawsuit lawyers, and Instagram algorithm attorneys to hold social media companies accountable for the significant part the designs of their products played in the self-harm and self-destructive behaviors of children. Among the attorneys who are actively seeking to interview and assist parents of children and teens harmed by social media sites are Console & Associates, P.C., injury and wrongful death attorneys with decades of legal experience.
Even if it’s true that nothing can undo the harm to your child and your family, holding those responsible for this terrible loss can sometimes bring families peace, closure, and the relief of knowing that taking a stand may protect someone else’s child from suffering similar harm.
Historically, this accountability has come mainly through civil lawsuits against the families of bullies or against schools and organizations that enabled bullying. Recently, more evidence has emerged linking social media to self-harm and suicidal ideation, and parents have begun standing up to the social media companies whose platforms—and the algorithms through which they control what content users see—contribute to poor mental health and the physical harm that can accompany it.
Multiple social media companies are now facing lawsuits filed by the heartbroken parents of children who harmed themselves. For parents, moving forward with a legal matter may be one way (often, the only way) to get your questions answered.
Child suicide and self-harm are preventable
The most important thing to realize at this incredibly difficult time is that what happened isn’t your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. Remind yourself of this over and over if you have to. Feelings of anger and guilt may be a normal part of the grieving process, but please don’t compound your pain by blaming yourself or your child. It’s not your fault.
The ongoing lawsuits allege that the fault for many of these terrible outcomes truly lies with the social media companies that put harmful and dangerous messages front and center by insisting on using algorithms designed to keep users, especially kids, excessively glued to the screen. Neither you nor your child could have ever envisioned all of this happening as a result of using an online website that was supposed to be fun and enjoyable. However, children are vulnerable and impressionable—a fact that social media companies know and, critics have alleged, take advantage of to promote their business and boost their advertising revenue. The destructive messages children are inundated with through social media can distort their perceptions of the world and themselves, ultimately contributing to a range of destructive effects and behaviors, the most devastating of which can turn truly tragic.
If your family has been affected by a child’s suicide, suicide attempt, or act of self-harm, please seek help for yourself and other members of your family, and encourage other friends and community members to do the same. Too often, these tragedies lead to clusters of harmful or destructive behavior. Getting the appropriate professional assistance—bereavement counseling, trauma counseling, or pharmacological and behavioral mental health treatments, for example—can help prevent this earth-shattering event from giving rise to other terrible occurrences.
The grief that you’re going through now is every parent’s nightmare. It’s important that you surround yourself and your family with caring, compassionate support, particularly during this time. If you decide that moving forward with a legal matter is the right choice for your family, please know that this kind of compassionate support is what you can expect from our legal professionals, many of whom are parents themselves. We know that the idea of speaking to an attorney can be daunting even without the tragedy you’re going through, and we want you to know that we’re here to help and support your family through this time with compassion and empathy.
In a 2019 research review published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, researchers concluded that “there is an independent association between problematic use of social media/internet and suicide attempts in young people.” Seven of the nine research studies reviewed found such an association between an increase in the number of suicide attempts and “heavy social media/internet use.”
Cyberbullying is a huge problem made considerably worse by children’s and teens’ easy access to social media applications. Numerous child suicides have been reported as arising out of bullying, and for kids today, the constant presence of social media apps on smartphones means that bullying doesn’t end on the playground. When bullies can harass innocent children virtually, they may not feel safe from the harassment even in their own loving homes.
Some social media channels offer bullies the ability to harass victims anonymously or to bully a person they may not even know in real life. This amplifies not only their potential to do harm but also the way a victim may perceive the trauma of being bullied. Because of the anonymity found on some social media apps, it may not be an option to confront or take a stand against the perpetrator. For kids being bullied online by anonymous people or by people they don’t even know, it can be difficult to see cyberbullying for what it really is— the mean actions of one person who may be covering up their own jealousy or insecurities—and not some widespread hatred of the victim. These perceptions can make bullying messages even more dangerous.
A child doesn’t have to be directly bullied for social media to affect their emotions. Comparing their own lives with what they see on social media—content that is often embellished, filtered, or completely fabricated, and which even if true represents only a small part of the poster’s reality—may lead to “destructive emotions and behaviors” that include “envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness,” according to a study of social comparisons in general that was published in the Journal of Adult Development. These destructive impacts are most commonly associated with making frequent social comparisons, so the more excessive a child’s or teen’s use of social media, the greater the potential for this sort of harm to occur.
In some instances, the harm that can result from social media use includes a negative body image component. Poor body image can lead to serious harm such as eating disorders, mood disorders, mental health issues, and self-harm tendencies. While many factors can contribute to poor body image, particularly in teens but even in younger children, there’s a documented relationship between body image and social media use. For example, the researchers behind a 2019 exploratory clinical study in New Zealand that was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders identified “a clear pattern of association” between social media use and the cognitions and behaviors associated with disordered eating.
The research that has been conducted so far into the link between social media use (and overuse) and mental health problems, body image issues, self-harm, and suicide among children is so compelling that it has prompted government involvement. A whistleblower employed by one of the largest social media companies in the United States leaked private internal documents, formally testifying in a Congressional hearing in October 2021. In November 2021, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. state attorneys general announced it would be investigating social media site Instagram, reportedly “over its efforts to draw children and young adults,” according to Reuters.
For too many grieving families, holding social media companies accountable for the devastation they have inflicted hasn’t been feasible—but that’s all changing.
Although social media companies like Meta (the parent company behind Facebook and Instagram) don’t produce the content themselves, the algorithms these sites use are what control the content to which users, including children, are exposed. Meta has been accused of designing Facebook’s and Instagram’s algorithms to aggressively spread “sensational content, such as posts that feature rage, hate or misinformation,” NPR reported, citing Congressional testimony given by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower, in 2021.
The algorithms used on many of these potentially dangerous social media sites are engagement-based. Instead of just showing posts from a user’s network in the order in which they were published, engagement-based algorithms reward posts that have plenty of ‘likes’ and comments—but these formulas generally don’t distinguish between wholesome and harmful content. As such, negative forms of engagement like hateful or abusive language or misinformation may still constitute engagement, propelling a post to greater visibility.
In the case of teens whose body image has been warped by the harmful messages on social media, a post by a fitness influencer that contains dangerous misinformation but receives a large volume of comments may still be highlighted for young users to see. Similarly, the comments themselves may be where the misinformation appears, rather than in the original post, but those ill-informed and problematic comments may still contribute to a high engagement score that boosts the visibility of the post.
By publicizing posts based on engagement without regard to the content of that engagement, Facebook and other social media companies may be playing an active, if unintentional, role in serving up dangerous content to vulnerable users, especially kids. Whistleblower Haugen has named a motivation for Facebook to continue using engagement-based algorithms despite the potential for harm: “astronomical profits.”
Because social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are generally free to use, most of the money from these channels comes from paid advertising. The companies advertising on Facebook want their ads to reach a large audience, which means that Facebook stands to benefit financially, if indirectly, from keeping users glued to the site as much as possible—even to the point where social media use can be said to be excessive or to constitute an addiction.
This excessive use, some parents say, is part of the problem. In her lawsuit against social media companies Meta Platforms, Inc. and Snap, Inc., the mother of the late Selena Rodriguez noted that her 11-year-old daughter’s “extreme addiction” to social media led to depression, sleep deprivation, and ultimately self-harm, Bloomberg reported. “She stopped interacting with us,” ABC News reported Rodriguez’s sister as saying. “She just always wanted to be on the phone… I think she kind of grew dependent on it.”
Excessive screen time is unhealthy and less than ideal for development for any child, or for any person, period. When the content a young person is exposed to with excessive frequency is full of cyberbullying, comparisons that make them feel inadequate, hateful or cruel language, images and content that makes them feel ashamed of their body, or other damaging messages, that exposure can quickly and seriously harm the individual’s mental health.
Unfortunately, this sort of excessive use, even to the point of approaching addiction, isn’t incidental to the success of social media companies—it’s critical. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to implement strategies presented by Facebook employees to help improve the quality of interactions on Facebook “because he worried they would lead people to interact with Facebook less.”
Suing social media companies for a child’s self-harm is still uncommon, but groundbreaking lawsuits against social media companies over injuries to children have emerged in the past year.
One such lawsuit was filed in California in May 2021 by Kristin Bride, the bereaved mother of 16-year-old Carson Bride, who committed suicide in June 2020 after being bullied through social media apps. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bride is suing Snap Inc. (the company behind the camera and social media platform Snapchat), its anonymous messaging app YOLO, and another anonymous messaging app called LMK. In the lawsuit, Bride’s attorneys argue that anonymous messaging apps “facilitate bullying to such a degree that they should be considered dangerous products,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Another heavily publicized social media lawsuit was filed in Connecticut in January 2022 by Tammy Rodriguez, whose 11-year-old daughter Selena Rodriguez died by suicide in July 2021. The grieving mother reported that her daughter’s use of the social media sites Snapchat and Instagram were linked to issues like social media addiction, eating disorders, depression, sleep deprivation, self-harm, and exposure to users’ requests for the minor to send sexually exploitative content, according to Business Insider. The lawsuit names the companies behind both social media platforms and calls the social media channels “dangerous and defective.”
One reason these lawsuits against social media companies are becoming more common—besides the tragic reality that suicide attempts among children are also becoming more common—is a recent legal ruling that has set a new precedent.
Historically, websites and social media companies have had some immunity for content posted by a third party (like messages that constitute bullying) under Title 47 Section 230 of the United States Code, passed under the United States Communications Decency Act. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, a court ruling issued in early May 2021 by the United States District Court for the Central District of California “opened the door to the idea that social media companies — and Snap in particular — can be held responsible for building or enabling features that are so clearly dangerous to its users that the product is essentially defective.”
The lawsuits currently being filed against social media companies for child suicide, self-harm, and mental health problems allege that features of social media platforms, like the ability for anonymous messaging or engagement-based algorithms, are dangerous and defective. In some instances, plaintiffs’ complaints have also alleged that the defendant social media companies failed to warn consumers (both minor site users and parents) of known dangers and negative health effects and that they marketed themselves to a target age group (teens and adolescents) for which, research has shown, excessive social media use is especially dangerous.
As a parent, you only ever wanted to protect your child, but the hidden dangers social media sites pose to children and teens aren’t something you ever could have predicted. Your family has suffered in so many ways. As you’re trying to make sense of what you have been through, you deserve to have compassionate help and support on your side to assist you in getting answers and holding social media companies accountable for the harm that, research studies have shown, their applications can cause to child and teen users.
The sympathetic attorneys at Console & Associates, P.C. are now helping families pursue social media self-harm lawsuits at no upfront cost. We will undertake an investigation into the social media company, the relevant research studies that document the negative effects of social media use, and the precise ways that social media contributed to the harm your child suffered.
If we’re able to help you and you decide that moving forward with a lawsuit is the right step for you, then our experienced attorneys can represent you in your legal matter on a no-win, no-fee basis. We realize that you’re going through enough as it is, so we never want to add to your struggles by putting the financial burden of attorneys’ fees on you. Instead, you would only ever have to pay in legal fees a percentage of the money our attorneys are able to get for you, so there is no risk of moving forward with a lawsuit.
To speak to a knowledgeable and understanding legal professional for free about your situation and the potential of moving forward with a claim, contact us today at (866) 778-5500 or by filling out our online contact form.