Four of Ontario’s largest school boards have brought a lawsuit against four of the biggest social media companies for causing an epidemic of addiction among teens. The boards are seeking over $4 billion in damages.

Time spent on Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and Youtube, the suit claims, has led to “an attention, learning, and mental health crisis.” The apps cause “distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying” and “a rapid escalation of aggression.”

The core claim in the lawsuit is that social media apps cause a public nuisance. A business does this when it pollutes a river. Protesters do it when they block a public road. The school boards allege that TikTok, Snapchat and others have interfered with a public right to education and impaired young people’s mental health.

Just as a business can be forced to stop polluting, the school boards want Google, Meta, ByteDance and Snapchat to be forced to change their algorithms to make them less addictive and harmful. They should also pay the costs that boards have incurred to address mental health and attention issues.

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