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Students push back after Seattle Public Schools sues social media companies

Some students within SPS believe this lawsuit is hiding the real issue which is that they need more mental health counselors in schools.

SEATTLE — Some students within Seattle Public Schools are questioning the district's decision to sue major social media companies.

Seattle Public Schools is suing major social media companies over the impact on teen mental health. Natalya McConnell, one of the founders of the Seattle Student Union, and fellow classmate Israr Rukun said they aren't disputing that social media is bad for mental health, but they wonder what the school district is trying to accomplish with the lawsuit.

“I do agree that TikTok and other social media plays a detrimental part in mental health, but I don’t believe that SPS has a right to look externally for blame when they themselves are responsible for a lot of it,” said Rukun.

The 92-page lawsuit claims the social media giants violated Washington’s public nuisance law and intentionally contributed to the youth mental health crisis in the state. The lawsuit claims the district and its more than 49,000 students have been directly impacted. 

McConnell said the lawsuit feels performative.

“We as students in the Seattle Student Union - and especially after the Ingraham student just a couple months ago where a student was shot and killed - we spoke up and said this is what we need," McConnell said. "We need mental health counselors in every school to address the mental health crisis and right now the district took that and said, OK, we’re going to do a lawsuit against social media companies. That’s not what we asked for. We asked for mental health counselors.” 

The Global Head of Safety for Meta, the company which owns Facebook and Instagram, responded to SPS's suit saying, "We want teens to be safe online ... We automatically set teens’ accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send notifications encouraging them to take regular breaks. We don’t allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders."

A spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, also provided a response to the suit, telling KING 5, "We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children ... We provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices."

In the latest budget, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell allocated $4 million to provide resources for teen mental health, which Natalya said is not enough.

After the Ingraham High School shooting in November, where a 17-year-old was shot and killed by a 14-year-old, Seattle Public Schools announced it would create a child wellbeing council. 

Students later held a walk out and rally with a list of demands, including asking for more mental health counselors in schools.  

“The district, before they carry out a lawsuit which is very expensive, they should have looked inward and addressed the problems that are actually in our schools that they themselves can solve,” said McConnell. 

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