More Ontario school boards sue tech giants over social media effects on students

More school boards and private schools have decided to sue the tech giants behind social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat over accusations these apps were designed to be addictive and have unsafe effects on students’ mental health.

The plaintiffs include five Ontario public schools: Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, York Catholic District School Board, Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Ottawa Catholic School Board, District School Board of Niagara. An all-girls school in Mississauga, Holy Name of Mary College School, and Eitz Chaim, a Jewish day school in Toronto, are part of the lawsuit as well.

The statements of claim were filed on Tuesday in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.

They are following in the footsteps of a lawsuit already filed by four of Canada’s largest school boards in March; Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, and Peel District School Board.These four school boards became the first in Canada to file lawsuits against social media companies for allegedly designing products that deterred the learning abilities and rewired the behaviour of students.

The allegations have not been tested in court.

“The defendants chose to maximize profits at the expense of student well-being and without due regard to the foreseeable harm and damage caused,” read the statement of claims from March.

The lawsuits argue that educators have been left to manage the fallout of these effects on students on their own.

Tech giant Meta is responsible for Facebook and Instagram, while Snap Inc. owns Snapchat. Bytedance Ltd. owns TikTok.

The school boards and private schools are seeking $2.6-billion in damages.

Meta has responded to the lawsuits by releasing a statement that it was investing in technology to find and remove any content related to suicide, self-injury and eating disorders.

In an email to the Globe and Mail, Meta wrote that it was working to “provide teens with safe, supportive experiences online.

”TikTok has argued that it designed safeguards like parental controls and an automatic one hour screen-time limit for users under the age of 18. Snapchat said it will defend the claims made against it, stating, “we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.

”The Ontario government announced a new policy requiring phones to be silenced and out of sight for the entirety of the school day, starting next year for students from kindergarten through to Grade 6 last month.

Students Grade 7 and up will have more access to their phones throughout the day, with their use only being prohibited during class hours. If students are caught using their phones, they will have to hand them over to staff and their parents will be notified.

“We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers alike that cellphones in classrooms are distracting kids from learning,” said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce in an April statement.

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