A Connecticut woman is suing Instagram’s parent company Meta and Snap Inc, alleging an addiction to their social media platforms caused the suicide of her young daughter.
Selena Rodriguez, an 11-year-old resident of the town of Enfield, committed suicide last year.
The lawsuit alleges that her death was caused by the potentially dangerous features of the platforms.
The case comes amid growing fears over the impact of social media on children.
According to a statement from the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC) – which filed the suit in California on behalf of Selena’s mother, Tammy – the young girl suffered from an “extreme” addiction to Instagram and Snapchat.
Ms Rodriguez confiscated her daughter’s devices on multiple occasions, only to have her run away to use social media, according to the SMVLC.
“On multiple occasions, Selena received mental health treatment for her addiction,” the statement said. “One outpatient therapist who evaluated Selena remarked that she had never seen a patient as addicted to social media.”
Before her suicide on 21 July 2021, Selena had allegedly suffered from sleep deprivation and depression for months, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic began and she spent more time on social media.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Selena was repeatedly solicited for sexually exploitative content, which she ultimately shared.
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The images were then leaked and shared by her classmates, leading to a deterioration of her mental state and eventually to her suicide.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a federal courtroom in California on Friday, alleges that both social media giants “knowingly and purposefully” designed and marketed products that were harmful to a “significant” number of their underage users.
“The defendants intentionally created an attractive nuisance to young children but failed to provide adequate safeguards from the harmful effects they knew were occurring on their wholly owned and controlled digital premises,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement sent to the BBC, a Snap spokesperson said the company was “devastated” to hear of Selena’s death, although it declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically.
“Nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community,” the spokesperson said, adding that it helps people communicate with friends “without some of the public pressure and social comparison features of traditional social media platforms”.
The spokesperson added that it “intentionally makes it hard for strangers to contact young people” and is working with mental health organisations to provide in-app tools and resources.
Meta – the parent company of Facebook – did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the BBC.
The lawsuit comes as US lawmakers and the public have grown increasingly concerned over the impact of social media on young people.
In November, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen told lawmakers the company was harming children, but alleged that it “won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people”.
Afterward, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent a letter to staff – made public on his Facebook page – that the company cares “deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health”.