Ontario’s largest school boards sue TikTok, Snapchat, and Meta for $4.5 billion

On Thursday, four of Ontario’s largest school boards started legal action against Meta Platforms Inc. (who own Facebook and Instagram), Snap Inc. (who own SnapChat), and ByteDance Ltd. (who own TikTok) for disrupting student learning and the education system.

Counsel for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Peel District School Board (PDSB), Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) alleged that social media products have been negligently designed for compulsive use, and have rewired the way children think, behave, and learn, “leaving educators and schools to manage the fallout.”

“The influence of social media on today’s youth at school cannot be denied. It leads to pervasive problems such as distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, a rapid escalation of aggression, and mental health challenges,” said Colleen Russell-Rawlins, Director of Education, Toronto District School Board, in a statement. “Therefore, it is imperative that we take steps to ensure the well-being of our youth. We are calling for measures to be implemented to mitigate these harms and prioritize the mental health and academic success of our future generation.”

The news has led to a debate across social media, with some noting that its parents who should monitor what their children watch.

Neinstein LLP, a Toronto-based boutique litigation firm, has been retained by the school boards to represent them. The goal of the litigation is to “provide school boards with the resources needed to support student programming and services, and to respond to the school-based problems social media giants have caused.”

The boards noted that the fallout of compulsive use of social media amongst students is causing “massive strains” on the boards’ finite resources, including “additional needs for in-school mental health programming and personnel, increased IT costs, and additional administrative resources.”

Collectively, the boards are advancing claims in excess of $4 billion. The goal is for social media giants to remediate these enormous costs to the education system and to redesign their products to keep students safe.

According to Rashmi Swarup, Director of Education, Peel District School Board, there has been growing concern for years about the effect of social media on students’ development, mental health, safety, and emotional well-being.

“Urgent action is needed to protect students from further harm,” said Swarup in a statement. “That is why we have come together in bringing action against social media giants to make their products safer while addressing the disruptions they are causing to our educational mandate.”

TikTok’s fate in the U.S. is also up in the air. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating the social media company over its data and security practices, which could lead to a settlement or a lawsuit against TikTok.