BALTIMORE -- There is growing concern about how social media and the internet could be harming children.
Now, more than 40 Attorneys General from across the country are filing lawsuits against social media companies, saying it is harming our youths' mental health.
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown announced on Tuesday he is joining the federal and state push to enforce protections against Meta, including its Facebook and Instagram platforms.
The state's investigation alleges that Meta has deployed tactics with the intention of addicting children and teens to their platforms while assuring the public that their features are safe and suitable for children.
"A child's mental health and emotional development help determine how they will see and cope with the world around them, and an addiction to social media disrupts that critical development," Attorney General Brown said. "We believe that Meta has manipulated their social media platforms to attract and addict young people, without regard for how using applications like Instagram will negatively affect children and deepen the mental health crisis afflicting our nation's youth."
Brown was surrounded by school leaders and students on Tuesday at Baltimore's Hampstead Hill Academy to announce the lawsuits while highlighting the harmful impacts of Instagram and Facebook by tactics of endless scrolling and the mental health effects of young people's desire for interaction.
"(Baltimore) City schools have seen first-hand the negative mental health outcomes among students that reflect the most common symptoms of excessive social media use," said Josh Civin, Baltimore City Schools Chief Legal Officer.
Maryland and dozens of states across the country, in the lawsuit against Meta, allege that the company violated the Federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
"Youth mental health crisis exacerbated by social media is growing and becoming more dangerous for our children. So today we announced that Maryland, along with 40 to 32 other attorneys general are joining a federal lawsuit against Meta," Brown said.
The lawsuit accuses Meta of intentionally implementing harmful features that make its products and platforms addictive for children. Those features include infinite scrolling and 'near-constant' alerts, according to the attorney general.
"Just like Big Tobacco did a generation ago. Meta has chosen to maximize its profits at the expense of public health, specifically the health of our children," Brown said.
The lawsuit claims the impacts on young people include anxiety, depression, stress and even the contemplation of suicide.
Eighth-grader Aria Cannizzaro reflects on the peer pressure to fit in online.
"Even just at recess when my friends are on their phones, and look on Instagram, I would feel left out as I cannot go on it with them," Cannizzaro said. "Then once I got it, the stress that came with maintaining my social media started affecting me mentally."
As Maryland and dozens of other states work through these lawsuits, Hampstead Hill Academy is taking a proactive approach with their students to limit the use of cell phones and social media during the school day with a yonder pouch.
"They come to school, they turn off their phone inside the pouch, and then they quickly just show us that they lock the pouch by closing the button, and so when we can't see the green they're locked for the day," said Matthew Cobb, an instructional coach at Hampstead Hill Academy.
But when students go home, it's all about the limits of parents and their attention to what and who their children are interacting with online.
"There are time limits in my home or WiFi shuts off and I'm the only one that has the password," parent Keiona Gorham said.
While the state works through these lawsuits, parents say you can also take advantage of parental controls on your WiFi and your child's cellphone.
She also said parents can use an app called "Bark" to stay in control of their child's social media.
Social Media & Student Mental Health
Several Maryland school districts haveagainst social media giants for harming kids' mental health. The lawsuit says apps have addictive algorithms and can expose children to harmful messages. It adds that the rate of depression among youth is skyrocketing.
Back in April, WJZ, who fears the online world is affecting children's focus and how they learn.
"What we've seen recently - the game changer - is the actual mental health impact social media is having on students during the school day when they are supposed to be learning," he said.
The US surgeon general took a stance and releasedthat notes that although there are some benefits, social media use presents "a profound risk of harm" for kids. It calls for increased research into social media's impact on youth mental health, as well as action from policymakers and technology companies.
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