A spate of recent lawsuits against social media companies for causing mental illness in youth suggests what researchers (and those of us who grew up online) knew already: social media is poison for the developing mind. In September 2021, the Wall Street Journal published the Facebook Files, revealing myriad problems with the tech giant which users had long suspected. Frances Haugen blew the whistle on Facebook’s own internal research, which found that Instagram causes body image issues in teenage girls and was riskier than many other social media platforms. The following month, Haugen appeared before the Senate Commerce committee to discuss these disturbing findings.
Unfortunately for social media corporations, the public refused to ignore the mounting evidence that social media use can be harmful. By the end of 2022, over 1,200 families were suing tech giants for their role in harming children’s mental health. Seattle Public Schools was the first school district to sue social media companies for damages over social media, followed by school districts in Florida, New Jersey, and California. The defendants in these lawsuits include Meta and its subsidiaries Facebook and Instagram; YouTube and its parent companies Alphabet and Google; and Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat. This year, the Supreme Court also heard a case about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law which shields tech companies from accountability for the content posted by users, suggesting that Congress should amend archaic laws passed early in the internet age to reflect today’s rapidly-changing internet landscape.
Last year there was also a significant, though less publicized, lawsuit involving Big Tech. Missouri and Louisiana Attorneys General filed Missouri v. Biden on May 5th, 2022, indicting the Biden administration for alleged collusion with social media companies to censor certain inconvenient topics. Eric Schmitt, Missouri Attorney General, posted a Twitter thread explaining the lawsuit, which has since been archived. In the thread, Schmidt detailed how social media companies suppressed discussion of the SARS-CoV-2 lab leak theory and Hunter Biden’s laptop, referenced emails between tech companies and government officials, and shared video of a White House press conference in which former press secretary Jen Psaki discussed working with social media platforms to censor “disinformation.”
As the Missouri v. Biden case wended through the courts, former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson pursued legal action against Big Tech for censoring his criticisms of COVID-19 vaccines and school lockdowns. The New York Post, whose coverage of the Hunter Biden laptop story was suppressed by both Facebook and Twitter in 2020 after the FBI warned Facebook of “Russian disinformation,” reported in October 2022 on internal Twitter communications and documents proving the tech giant worked with Pfizer and the Biden administration to “de-platform” Berenson.
On March 7, 2023, Just The News reported that the New Civil Liberties Alliance filed a brief and a 364-page statement of facts documenting evidence that the federal government had pressured social media companies into censoring content. One intriguing part of these filings was during congressional hearings, when Democratic lawmakers sought to intimidate Big Tech executives. Democrats in Congress have threatened tech monopolies with antitrust action and, as mentioned earlier, have considered revoking the liability shield protecting online platforms in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. On the surface, this may seem like a progressive move. After all, social media companies have in fact allowed genuinely harmful content detrimental to the mental health of millions of American youth. But the real aim behind the federal government’s threats against Big Tech is to force these social media platforms to comply with government demands to censor public debate around topics that are inconvenient to the Biden administration, pharmaceutical corporations, railroad companies, and others.
The defendants in the social media censorship lawsuits include multiple federal government officials and agencies, all of which have been captured by different factions of capital. The lawsuits against social media companies for knowingly harming children, meanwhile, involve just one faction: Big Tech. It should come as no surprise that liberal mainstream media outlets are covering the latter while burying the former. If their intention were really to expose the crimes of Big Tech, the media would report on the ample evidence of censorship and corruption revealed by the Missouri v. Biden case, the Twitter Files, and other sources. And if their intention were to protect children, the media would acknowledge the role social media companies played in censoring legitimate discussion of the detrimental effects of school lockdowns on children’s development and mental health. In reality, the mainstream media functions to preserve corporate power at all costs, including young people’s mental health.