CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) has filed a lawsuit against several major social media companies, claiming that they are culpable in a “growing mental health crisis among students.”
The lawsuit comes after years of what CMSS Director Dr. Jean Luna-Vedder described in a press release as mental health issues, threats of school violence, cyberbullying, inappropriate content and other “challenges, damages and disruptions” linked to students’ social media usage.
“Without cooperation and support from social media companies, CMCSS has been fighting an uphill battle,” she said. “We need to protect our children, our schools and our society.”
The companies included in the lawsuit are Meta, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Google, WhatsApp and YouTube — all of which the school system claims lack protections, monitors and controls to protect children.
In 2021, school resource officers with CMCSS investigated close to two dozen school threats, most of which officers said came from social media. False threats on platforms like Snapchat also substantially increased this year after the Covenant School Mass Shooting in Nashville.
In a statement following the increase in false threats of school violence, Montgomery County Sheriff John Fuson said false threats have “proven to be a detriment to the day-to-day operations” of schools “as well as creating a state of panic” in the community.
The school system also suffered thousands of dollars in damages related to a viral TikTok trend encouraging students to steal items from schools that began spreading in 2021. At one school, a urinal was pulled from the wall, causing $6,000 in damages.
Enough kids participated that 125 students in Clarksville-Montgomery County schools received zero-tolerance expulsions during the first quarter of the 2021 school year. The school system is the seventh largest in the state, with more than 38,000 students and 43 schools.
In the press release, Attorney Chris McCarty of Lewis Thomason law firm said the school system is seeking “accountability and marked changes in the way social media giants interact with children,” including more protections, monitors and controls surrounding student access.
“There are a litany of issues caused by children using social media without proper protections in place,” McCarty said. “These issues cause disruptions in schools, increased costs and safety concerns.”
Some studies have also linked social media usage among children with an increase in mental health issues including anxiety and depression, William Shinoff, an attorney with the Frantz Law Group added.
Such concerns have recently come to national attention. A new advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Tuesday, May 23, warned that there is increasing evidence indicating social media usage could pose a harm to children.
He cited a 2019 study that found teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of poor mental health including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Up to 95% of teenagers in the U.S. use social media, with the average spending 3.5 hours a day online.
In his advisory, Murthy also called on higher transparency from tech companies, noting that independent researchers have told his office that companies have not provided the full data needed to make a complete assessment of the risk of harm.
“Students, administrators, parents and teachers do not have the resources to address these major concerns,” Shinoff said in the release. “Social media companies have the power to make positive changes to protect children and stop negligent practices.”
Attorneys for the school system are also asking other interested Tennessee school districts to join in the lawsuit. A number of other school systems have filed similar lawsuits this year.