Charleston Co. Schools files lawsuit against social media companies

The Charleston County School District on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against several social media companies.
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2023 at 5:33 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against several social media companies.

The lawsuit names social media sites Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok along with their parent companies Bytedance, Meta Platforms and Google.

The lawsuit alleges the companies and sites are a public nuisance stating the sites put students and parents at a “highly unreasonable risk of harm” with a “reckless and outrageous indifference.”

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the companies made their products purposely addictive to young users “substantially contributing to the mental health crisis.”

Court documents also allege the companies were negligent in not investigating and testing their platforms as “wrongfully concealed” safety information.

“The mental health crisis caused and/or significantly contributed to by the defendants has caused major disruption in Plaintiff’s schools,” documents state.

The district, in court documents, says the impact of the platforms has caused the district to employ more mental health professionals, development more resources for mental health and add additional training for teachers and staff to recognize emotional and social distress.

Attorney Marlon Kimpson, whose firm Motley Rice is representing the district, said the designers of apps like these have been on the opposite side of the children for far too long.

“They have designed for-profit applications and products that exploit minors,” Kimpson said. “Defenseless minors.”

Court documents state the district “suffered harm to their real and personal property along with other economic losses, including the costs associated with past, present, and future efforts to address, pay for, and/or eliminate the youth mental health crisis, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“As a result of the exploitation, our school districts, which are largely the supplier of mental health services to our children through our schools, their budgets are hemorrhaging,” Kimpson said.

The lawsuit also asserts the companies knew the risks of harm the platforms posed to users and did not warn the “unsuspecting public.”

The district is asking for an injunction for the companies to stop the practices causing the nuisance and prevent further nuisances from occurring. They are also seeking actual and punitive damages and fees of an undisclosed amount.

Those damages, Kimpson said, would take the burden of the expanded resources from taxpayers and onto the companies.

“It’s been an unfair fight for far too long,” Kimpson said. “And it’s time that somebody do something.”

The district is asking for a jury trial.

District spokesman Andy Pruitt said the goal of the lawsuit was to benefit students, employees and families.

“The Board made the decision to move forward with this action with the goal of benefiting our students, employees, and local families as a whole,” Pruitt said. “Retaining outside counsel, especially a local firm with national MDL experience like Motley Rice, for a case of this magnitude is an economically sound decision for our district.”

An MDL is a federal procedure used to consolidate cases with common fact patterns for efficiency. Kimpson said the process involved making filings and taking dispositions at the national level. Once that process is complete, the cases are then sent back to district courts and tried by jury individually.

Kimpson said there’s no singular solution the suit seeks to put in place. He points to Motley Rice’s navigation of the opioid case as an example of how the solution isn’t cut and dry pointing out there are many ways to stop the problem.

“We’ll have to work to better understand the problem and the impact on the school district,” Kimpson said.

Kimpson said they would then work to fashion a solution that would protect children.

As for the next step in the process, Kimpson said the defendants will have 30 days to respond to the filing.