Opinion: Ottawa’s public school board right to sue social media giants

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You may have heard that the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and three other school boards in Ontario have filed lawsuits against some of the biggest social media giants in the world.

The school boards claim that “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are disrupting the way children think, behave and learn, leaving the school system to manage the fallout with limited resources.”

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Together, these school boards oversee the education of more than half a million students. It may well be worth taking a legal magnifying glass to the impact of social media on youth to see why educators are willing to take such drastic action.

I am 23 and my generation is one of the first to grow up with unadulterated social media access. I must say: I think we are worse off because of it.

Studies show that young people who spend more than three hours a day on social media have double the risk of developing mental health issues. A study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that 35 per cent of Ontario secondary students spend more than five hours a day on social media.

But that doesn’t mean social media platforms are without their benefits. Studies show that these platforms can help young people find community based on their identities, interests and abilities. These apps can provide safe spaces for kids to be themselves, and that, in and of itself, is valuable and deserves to be preserved.

That said, unadulterated access to anything is not healthy. Giving your child a cookie from that jar on the top shelf is a welcome sweet treat — but don’t give them a ladder.

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The social media giants, like any company, are in the money-making business. The longer people stay on their apps, the more advertisements they can show, the more they can tailor these advertisements, and therefore, the more revenue they can earn.

Social media algorithms are built to keep us hooked, and I mean everybody, not just kids. The more you stay on the app, the more these algorithms learn about you, and what you’re interested in, what you like to buy, what your vices are, what makes you angry; you get the point. They are built to be addicting, which makes them even more dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing.

School boards are starting to take notice and are charging that social media companies interrupt the educational process. More and more students are requiring mental-health services than ever before, and school boards are already dangerously underfunded.

Boards such as the OCDSB are willing to take a stand for their students by suing these corporate titans for billions of dollars to fix the damage caused, while lifting the burden off the taxpayer and onto these profit-making machines.

Social media has its benefits, but there need to be more regulations in place to protect the health and safety of children and teenagers.

This is not just a province-wide health crisis, but a national one too. It’s about time we treated it as one.

Keith de Silvia-Legault is a Ottawa-based community organizer, and a former OCDSB school trustee candidate.

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