Lawyers seek to cash in on tech panic by enlisting school districts to sue. The number of school districts suing social media companies for allegedly harming children is multiplying quickly. "Nearly 200 school districts so far have joined the litigation against the parent companies of Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube," reports The Wall Street Journal. "The suits have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., along with hundreds of suits by families alleging harms to their children from social media."
The lawsuits come as part of a growing movement to childproof the internet. In Congress and in states across the country, lawmakers are proposing measures to make websites verify visitor ages, block minors from having accounts, and more.
But the school district lawsuits also represent a novel strategy in the war on social media.
So far, this war has largely taken the form of state prosecutors and federal agencies suing tech companies, alleging antitrust violations. Or it's come in the form of (unconstitutional) laws restricting editorial discretion exercised by social media platforms.
We've also seen civil lawsuits filed by individuals and families who say social media companies contributed to terrorist attacks, sex trafficking ventures, or kids and teens engaging in risky behavior; most of these have been thrown out because Section 230 immunizes platforms against civil suits based on third-party speech. School districts suing, however, is relatively new.
"School districts say teachers and administrators waste valuable time responding to cyberbullying and other disciplinary problems, adding new training and school policies around social-media use, and counseling youths whose addiction to online apps is leading to anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts," reports the Journal.
The schools' reasoning seems flimsy. Evidence that social media causes widespread mental health issues in minors is scarce. Bullying among teens is an issue with or without social media. And—like it or not—responding to behavioral, mental health, and interpersonal issues among students is simply part of running an educational institution. School administrators might like some special payout from tech companies to help them do their jobs, but there's no real practical, moral, or legal justification for granting this.
The schools argue that Section 230 doesn't apply here because "social-media companies have created an addictive product that pushes destructive content to youth—and that a product, unlike content, doesn't enjoy Section 230 protections," notes the Journal.
This is just the latest version of an argument that's been made in courts many times: that it's the way social media companies are set up—their product design, their functionality, their algorithms, etc.—that causes harm, not the third-party speech they transmit per se. But this argument doesn't pass the common sense test: if the underlying content is not an issue—if it's speech that is perfectly benign and unlikely to trigger any ill feelings or fixating or "addiction" in teens—then how can the way it's being presented be an issue?
It's also an argument that doesn't pass legal muster, with judge after judge throwing out lawsuits that try to circumvent Section 230 by saying their claims are about product design or functionality and not speech. The tech companies are correct when they wrote in a joint brief last month that "the alleged defects" in their products "are inescapably linked to the publication of third-party content."
Each new trend in civil suits against tech companies seems driven by enterprising lawyers seeking a payout. And, as the Journal article makes clear, this one is no exception:
"Plaintiffs' lawyers are pitching school boards throughout the country to file lawsuits against social-media companies on allegations that their apps cause classroom disciplinary problems and mental-health issues, diverting resources from education," notes the Journal. "William Shinoff, a lawyer with California firm Frantz Law Group, said he has personally presented to more than 100 board meetings and that his firm has 500 school districts signed up to sue. … His firm and others typically sign agreements giving the lawyers 25% of any recovery."
A federal court has struck down an Arizona law that limited the filming of cops. The rule in question—signed into law by former Gov. Doug Ducey last year—made it illegal to film police officers from a distance of 8 feet or closer if the police told the person filming to stop. U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi temporarily halted enforcement of the law in a ruling last year. On Friday, he permanently blocked its enforcement. "The law prohibits or chills a substantial amount of First Amendment protected activity and is unnecessary to prevent interference with police officers given other Arizona laws in effect," Tuchi wrote in his decision.
Republican candidates let some Social Security realism creep in. Republicans are often just as loathe to discuss Social Security cuts as their Democratic counterparts. So it's refreshing to see some 2024 GOP presidential candidates admit that the old-age benefits program can't continue on its current trajectory forever. Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley "are pushing for cuts to Social Security benefits that would only affect younger Americans," The Washington Post reports: