Social media platforms accused of pushing dangerous content; not protecting young users
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media addiction and abuse, announced last week that it has filed three lawsuits—one against Meta Platforms, Inc., and two against Meta, Snap, Inc. and ByteDance—for the wrongful deaths of three Louisiana children.
The lawsuits allege that Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram, Snap, Inc.’s Snapchat and ByteDance’s TikTok applications caused contributed to the suicide deaths of three teenagers from Louisiana: Brantley Aranda, 17, of Jonesboro, La.; Emma Claire Gill, 16, of Goldonna, La.; and Englyn Roberts, 14, of New Iberia, La.
According to the lawsuits, the social media platforms’ dangerous and defective applications led to the addiction, anxiety, depression and ultimately the deaths of the three youths. The addictive design and distribution of harmful content of its products were provided to the minors without their parents’ consent or knowledge.
“Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. Social media companies like Meta Platforms, Snap and TikTok deliberately create products to addict its users, causing irreparable harm to those most vulnerable, our children,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “We must hold them accountable for the harm they have caused, and to prevent further injuries and deaths resulting from use of its products by minors.”
To date, including the three cases filed today, Social Media Victims Law Center has filed nine lawsuits against social media companies for personal injuries and/or wrongful deaths. Of the nine cases, seven have been wrongful death lawsuits.
Brantley Aranda (December 30, 2001 – September 4, 2019)
Case #3:22-cv-04209 – United States District Court, Northern California, San Francisco Division
Brantley Aranda, born and raised in Jonesboro, Louisiana, was extremely smart, creative, funny, and loved learning. He was a role model for his two younger brothers.
Brantley received his first cell phone in 2016, for his 15th birthday; however, that device did not have internet access. The phone was set up to only allow texting and calls, and not the internet. While his family did have a computer, Brantley was not allowed to use it for social media. In fact, he and his brothers had to earn computer time by doing chores, such as cleaning his room, mowing the lawn, or visiting his grandparents.
After his first phone was having technical issues, Brantley received a new phone in or about May 2019. However, this time, the phone had internet access. His mother, Blair, tried to discourage Facebook use on his new phone by telling Brantley that they had a limited phone plan and it would cost more if he used the internet. Brantley quickly figured out that this was not the case. He would soon become obsessed with Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
On September 4, 2019, Brantley had his phone taken away as a consequence of fighting with his brother. Later that night, the family attended church, and his parents noticed Brantley writing something down during the sermon. It was assumed he was taking notes on the sermon itself. It turned out to be a suicide note.
Brantley asked to go home after church while his mom stayed behind to cook food for the congregation. Brantley usually stayed to help, but Blair agreed to let him go home with his grandparents instead, who lived close to the Arandas.
It was expected that Brantley would stay with his grandparents, but he convinced them he had homework to do, so they dropped him off at his home instead. When his mother arrived home after church, she found Brantley with a bullet to his chest and a suicide note that read, “I’m sorry for everything.” Brantley Aranda died on September 4, 2019, 10 days into his senior year of high school, and less than four months after obtaining access to the Facebook social media product on his personal cell phone.
Emma Claire Gill (September 2, 2004 – August 8, 2021)
Case #1:22-cv-02173 – United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Alexandria Division
Emma Claire Gill of Goldonna, Louisiana, was a happy child, outgoing, involved, and had lots of friends and a supportive family. She loved basketball, hunting, Alabama football and beauty pageants. When she was younger, Emma Claire had dreams of one day becoming a singer, a dancer, or an actress, but later settled on wanting to become a phlebotomist once she realized how much math was involved in nursing.
She received her first cell phone when she was 10 years old after she joined an after-school program which required her to stay late. Her parents got her the phone so she could reach them when needed but was to be used for emergencies and safety purposes, not for social media.
Emma Claire opened her first Snapchat account on August 15, 2020, shortly before her 17th birthday. Then, in April 2021, one of Emma Claire’s classmates died by suicide. Her parents allowed Emma Claire to keep her phone with her at night for the first time, in case she needed to reach out to her friends or them to her.
For the next four months, Emma Claire suffered from the exact harms Meta, Snap and TikTok identified and/or know are caused by use of their social media products, harms they concealed to protect their bottom line.
After getting caught one night sneaking out of her home late at night, Emma Claire’s parents took her phone away as punishment and looked through the phone only to find inappropriate photos and a meme in Emma Claire’s deleted photos that someone took and that was making fun of Emma Claire. Darla woke up Emma Claire to talk about the photos, what they meant, and after their talk, Darla held Emma Claire until she fell back asleep. Darla reasonably believed that everything was fine.
The next morning, Darla woke Emma Claire up to get ready for church, but she told her father that she was going to feed to the pigs first. Darla thought Emma Claire was getting ready for church. Instead, without access to social media for the first time in four months, Emma Claire wrote a letter saying goodbye to her family and friends and that she could not take it anymore, went to her father’s truck, took his 22-caliber rifle, went out to the barn, and shot herself in the head. Emma Claire died on August 8, 2021, less than one year after being allowed access to Snapchat and four months after being allowed to keep her phone at night.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection and the arts.