• Two tribal nations are suing Meta, Google, TikTok, and Snapchat over youth mental health.
  • Native teenagers are up to four times as likely to die by suicide than other groups.
  • The Spirit Lake Tribe and the Menominee Indian Tribe say the companies have preyed on vulnerable youth.

Two tribes are suing social media giants, accusing them of contributing to the high suicide rates among Native teenagers by purposely getting kids hooked on their platforms.

The lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday. One was brought on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota, and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin brought the other. The lawsuits name Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and their parent companies, including Meta and Google as defendants.

"Given historic teen suicide and mental health issues on our Reservation and across Indian Country, Native youth are particularly vulnerable to the negative long-term effects resulting from the intentional, profit-driven design choices being made by these social media platforms," Lonna Jackson-Street, chairperson of Spirit Lake Nation, said in a statement provided to Business Insider.

The lawsuit said suicide rates for tribal youth in the US are three and a half to four times higher than other racial or ethnic groups, according to the Center for Native American Youth.

"Soaring suicide and mental illness have devastated Tribal communities and have pushed already chronically underfunded mental health programs to the breaking point," the lawsuits said.

The lawsuits allege the addictive nature of the platforms has contributed to the youth mental health crisis, including among kids on reservations.

The lawsuits said the social-media companies "deliberately tweaked the design and operation of their apps to exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of kids" and that the companies preyed on an already vulnerable group.

Among other things, the lawsuits are seeking "equitable relief to fund prevention education and treatment for excessive and problematic use of social media."

"Enough is enough. Endless scrolling is rewiring our teenagers' brains. We are demanding these social media corporations take responsibility for intentionally creating dangerous features that ramp up the compulsive use of social media by the youth on our Reservation," Gena Kakkak, chairwoman of the Menominee Indian Tribe, said in a statement.

In a statement provided to BI, Google spokesperson José Castaneda said: "Providing young people with a safer, healthier experience has always been core to our work. In collaboration with youth, mental health, and parenting experts, we built services and policies to provide young people with age-appropriate experiences and parents with robust controls. The allegations in these complaints are simply not true."

Meta, TikTok, and Snapchat did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

Other lawsuits have been brought over social media addiction, including by dozens of state attorneys general who sued Meta last year. However, these are the first lawsuits over social media addiction brought by federally recognized tribes, according to Robins Kaplan, the firm that filed the suits.

"These social media giants have generated hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, our complaint alleges, using a growth-at-all-costs strategy that comes at the expense of Native children and teenagers and the Tribal Nations they are part of," Tim Purdon, chair of the firm's American Indian Law and Policy Group and lead counsel to the tribes, said in a statement.

New York City also filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube in February, alleging the addictive nature of their platforms was contributing to the youth mental health crisis.

In response, Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, said in a statement to the Associated Press that their app "opens directly to a camera — rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling — and has no traditional public likes or comments."

The statement continued: "While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy, and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence."

A TikTok spokesperson told AP at the time: "TikTok has industry-leading safeguards to support teens' well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18, and more."

Meta also said the company wants "teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online" and that they have dedicated features aimed at helping kids and parents.

Read the original article on Business Insider