NYC Health + Hospitals sues social media giants over mental health crisis

NYC Health + Hospitals is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, alleging they have created a youth mental health crisis and seeking to recover related public health costs.

The public health system is joined by co-plaintiffs New York City and its department of education in the 311-page lawsuit, announced Feb. 14 and filed in California Superior Court. 

The lawsuit, which seeks damages and a jury trial, claims the five social media companies intentionally engineer their platforms with algorithms, gambling-like mechanics, and social manipulations to addict children and teens to social media apps. The complaint alleges that the companies' deliberate conduct and negligence have "been a substantial factor in fueling a youth mental health crisis." 

The city, school system and health system claim they are on the front lines of addressing harm caused to children and adolescents by the five social media platforms, and left responsible for the development, operation and management of "a complex and comprehensive network of public mental health programs and services" in response to the growing mental health needs. 

New York City spends more than $100 million on youth mental health programs and services each year, including those in partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals. The plaintiffs seek to recoup expenses in its lawsuit through punitive and compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial. The plaintiffs are also seeking changes to company behavior and further actions that would cause or contribute to the "public nuisance."

"Defendants were aware that school districts, public health departments, and public hospitals — which provide adolescents with critical educational, counseling, mental health, and social services — would be forced to address, through financial and human resources, the devastating impact that compulsive social media use and addiction is known to have on youth mental health," the lawsuit states.

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