The Warwick School Committee has joined a national lawsuit suing major social media companies Meta, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat, doing so in a 4-0 vote taken during Nov. 14’s School Committee …
The Warwick School Committee has joined a national lawsuit suing major social media companies Meta, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat, doing so in a 4-0 vote taken during Nov. 14’s School Committee meeting, following discussion in closed session.
The lawsuit is being filed by a consortium consisting of Beasley Allen Law Firm, Goza Honnold Trial Lawyers and Wagstaff & Cartmel. Warwick is one of four school districts in the state signed onto this suit, joining East Greenwich, Smithfield and West Warwick Public Schools.
Andrew Henneous, a partner at Henneous Carroll Lombardo LLC and the Warwick School Committee’s attorney, said the school committee decided to join onto the national suit because of social media-related experiences that had cost the school department money.
“I think it’s definitely worth looking into,” Henneous said. “It’s a good investment with very few potential drawbacks.”
According to School Committee Chair David Testa, the suit is modeled after one filed against vaping company Juul Labs, which ended in a $462 million dollar settlement and a loss for the company of over $3 billion, according to the New York Times. That lawsuit came following allegations that Juul was marketing their products, which contain nicotine, to minors.
Similarly, Beasley Allen alleges the four social media companies named in the suit have specifically targeted and addicted minors.
“Everything about these products—from inadequate age verification measures, insufficient parental controls, endless scrolling, constant notifications, and targeted algorithms—have been designed to addict teen and adolescent users,” Beasley Allen’s National Social Media Litigation Team said in a pamphlet shared with the Beacon.
Davis Vaughn, a Beasley Allen lawyer who assisted multiple committees in that case, is currently one of the lawyers involved in this case. According to him, Beasley Allen first started investigating in 2021, after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen alleged that the company had designed their sites to addict children and placed a greater value on profit than consumer safety.
“More time equals more dollars,” Vaughn said. “The more time these kids spend on social media, the more data they can extract, and the more data they can extract, the more money they can make.”
At that time, Vaughn was working with both individual plaintiffs suing social media companies and school districts suing Juul. When he and other lawyers began talking with schools about the effects of social media on their campuses, they realized just how much it had affected classrooms.
Proving a social media addiction is a harder task than proving an addiction to nicotine. However, according to Vaughn, social media companies have taken very similar tacks of creating a “lifelong customer,” and research has shown the reality of social media addiction.
Additionally, trends such as the “devious lick,” popular on TikTok in 2021, have led to vandalism and overall damages to school property. According to records from the Warwick Police Department, a bathroom sink at Toll Gate High School was ripped off of the wall in November of that year.
While that isn’t Vaughn’s main focus, he said it helps cement exactly why the suit is being conducted, and shows how schools are on the “front lines” when it comes to mental health.
“All of this comes at an enormous cost to school districts, who are already operating with declining budgets,” Vaughn said. “I don’t know of any school department in this country that just has money waiting to be spent on stuff like this, and it’s a diversion of resources instead of a school’s primary purpose of teaching students.”
According to Vaughn, the Warwick School Committee has not officially filed their suit yet, but he anticipates that the suit will be filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court (JCCP).
Beasley Allen said that school departments that join in on the lawsuit will not have to make upfront payments, and will only need to pay expenses if they win money in the suit.
Vaughn said that it’s tough to say how much the School Committee would owe should the suit be successful since the case is in discovery at this point, meaning it has yet to begin, but whatever they would owe would be a portion of the money that they receive in damages.
Overall, Vaughn expects about 1,500 school departments nationwide to sign on to the suit- a similar number to their suit against Juul. Currently, approximately 475 school departments around the country have joined in.
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