Are Facebook And Instagram Harming Children?
A recent whistleblower report concerning social media algorithms and how they “hack” our brains to produce addiction has many up in arms and initiatives to clamp down on social media companies has rare bipartisan support. To be sure, there are several wrongful death lawsuits to accompany allegations that sites like Facebook manipulate individuals to produce stronger engagement. The whistleblower claim included allegations that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, knew that their platforms could cause psychological harm to vulnerable users, especially children, but doubled down on efforts to increase engagement.
The allegations are quite startling. Parents report that their children took their own lives after becoming seemingly obsessed with social media. It impacted their ability to sleep, increased their anxiety, and resulted in serious depression, mood swings, and other psychological afflictions culminating in successful suicide attempts.
Can Facebook and Instagram be held liable under our current laws? It’s hard to say. These lawsuits are still being processed by the courts. The laws we have on the books are being reviewed. At this point, it’s a ball of legal confusion.
What is Facebook?
Software is sold under two different types and not all software is a product. Software that constitutes a product is held to the same standards as product liability. Software that constitutes a service is held to other standards. These are known as SaaP and SaaS. In both cases, users are generally required to sign licensing agreements that limit or eliminate the liability of the company. Herein lies the trouble. These licensing agreements are generally enforceable, so an individual who uses software as either a product or service may sign their right away to sue.
Meanwhile, the majority of software liability lawsuits do not involve allegations of wrongful death or even personal injury. However, there is precedent under the law. Recently, it is more common to find vehicles with advanced guidance and safety features that rely heavily on software to function. When the software malfunctions and causes injury, the company that manufactured the vehicle can be held liable for a defective product. It remains unclear if Facebook can be held accountable for suicide, even if they have cause to know that their website was negatively impacting the mental health of its child users.
Suffice it to say, Facebook is a service, not a product, and thus cannot be held to the same standard as a defective product. That does not, however, mean that the harm it causes isn’t real and the consequences of that harm aren’t devastating.
Still, it remains unclear what if any theory of liability Facebook can be held responsible for without legislative intervention.
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