Connecting Sociology and YOU!

Can You Sue Social Media?

Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube are being sued by the Seattle Public School system. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would a school system, a bureaucratic organization, take on some of the biggest tech titans in the world? 

Is it because the school didn’t like memes or gifs about them?No. The lawsuit is based on the Seattle school system’s argument that these social media companies are complicit in the skyrocketing rates of mental illness, anxiety, and depression seen in young adults. The school system does not have the funds to deal with the crises among their youth. They want these social media companies to not only help financially but also do more to self-regulate the content and access young people have to these sites. While the outcome of this case will be months away, it does allow us to address the role of social media in society and its impact on YOU.

As of January 1, 2023, the United States population was estimated to be around 334,233,854. At the same time, the number of social media users in the United States was pegged at over 308,000, with that figure steadily increasing. Without a doubt, social media is a social institutiona structure in society providing the framework for governing the behavior of individuals in a community or society. Other examples of social institutions include the family, education, religion, and political institutions, to name a few. These entities play a crucial role in influencing standards of behavior in society. Ideally, this results in positive outcomes for the individuals and society overall. The Seattle Public School system is arguing that, collectively, social media has a negative outcome on members of society. Just like any other social institution would be held responsible for poor results, social media companies should also be.  

Many people have their own opinions about the role of social media in our collective lives. A 2020 study by the Pew Research Center found that 64% of Americans believe that social media has a negative impact on U.S. society. While it is essential to take these views into consideration, it is also important to acknowledge these are subjective concernspeople’s feelings about a problem. These respondents expressed their personal attitudes and feelings about social media. Another way to approach the issues is by considering the objective conditions or the scope of a problem. This entails looking at the research and data on the impact of social media to see if it is causing more harm than good. The objective research has shown that, amongst other things, social media contributes to higher rates of eating disorders, lower self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.  

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good aspects to social media. People can stay in touch with family and friends through social media. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media became many people’s only form of social interaction. Arguably these uses are examples of the manifest function of social media, the intentional and formal function of this social institution in society. Yet, one cannot help but wonder if latent functionsunintentional and informal functions of social institutions and society, are of more significant concern. Spinning out these thoughts even further, one has to consider that social media may play a role in fostering a type of collective anomiethe breakdown of social values, norms, and order resulting in social instability.

Ultimately, society (and the courts) will need to decide if the issues associated with social media are a personal troublematter experienced at the individual level, or a public issue, matter that impacts society as a whole. Is social media an individual problem that families must address on a case-by-case basis? Or is it a social institution that should be held responsible for its impacts on society? In the end, how society answers these questions may impact YOU more than ever imagined. 


This blog post is provided by the co-authors of SociologicalYOU (Seventh Edition), a digital NextGen Introductory Sociology textbook engaging students in critical thinking to “Connect Sociology and YOU!” For more information, contact Support@SociologicalYOU.com.

About Author

Angela L. Thompson, Ph.D.

Dr. Thompson received her B.A. in English and Sociology from Wellesley College, her joint M.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Brandeis University, and her Ph.D. in Sociology also from Brandeis University.

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