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York Catholic board joins lawsuit against Meta, Snapchat, TikTok

Board joins others in seeking damages against the social media platforms for alleged impacts on student mental health, ability to learn
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York Catholic District School Board is joining a class action lawsuit against social media companies to address the harm it believes they can cause students.

The board has joined the umbrella group Schools for Social Media Change in the lawsuit. Made up of a growing number of school boards, the group represented by Neinstein LLP seeks damages from Meta, Snapchat and TikTok for how their platforms impact students. The lawsuit argues that the social media products are designed for compulsive use and have impacted how children think and behave, leaving schools to “manage the fallout.”

York Catholic District School Board senior manager of brand, marketing and communications Mark Brosens said he has noticed social media use when his daughter gets on the school bus every morning. Rather than talking with friends or even looking out a window, he said that students on the bus are instead looking at their phones.

“I, as a dad, worry about at what point is it going to be potentially my daughter in that situation,” Brosens said. “It’s just a general sense of depression and anxiety we see manifested in students, which we believe is due in part to the social media product that they’re exposed to.” 

The lawsuit first came forward in March, with four of Ontario’s largest school boards signing on. It calls on social media companies to redesign their products to keep students safe and seeks compensation for school boards for losses relating to addressing the harms of social media.

“The York Catholic District School Board is proud to join school boards from across Ontario in highlighting the harms social media companies have caused to students' mental health and ability to learn,” YCDSB chair Elizabeth Crowe said in a May 29 news release. “We call on these social media platforms to change by prioritizing our children's safety and well-being."

The lawsuit is not directly costing school boards anything, as Neinstein will only be paid a portion of any payout from a successful outcome. 

Premier Doug Ford is on record opposing the lawsuit.

“We banned cellphones in classrooms, I don’t know what the kids are using,” Ford said at a March news conference. “Let’s focus on the core values of education … Let’s focus on the kids, not about this other nonsense that they’re looking to fight in court.”

Brosens said banning cellphones in classrooms was a good step, but more action is needed.

“Social media and cellphone use permeates a student’s entire life,” he said. “What we need is more systemic change in order to ensure that young people are protected from the negative effects of social media. Which is what we’re trying to do with this lawsuit.”