Shawnee Mission School District takes on social media companies

Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 9:53 PM CDT
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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KCTV) - The Shawnee Mission School District is cracking down on social media.

It’s joining dozens of other districts across the country that have seen how social media companies like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram have negatively impacted their students – from lack of focus, mental health issues and bullying.

“We see students and the challenges with devices all the time,” said David Smith, the district’s chief communications officer. “A lot of that time is spent of social media. We see challenges, a lot more students in need of health services and support than we used to, and that coincides with the rise in social media.”

On Monday, the school board approved a resolution that will allow several local law firms to investigate and sue companies like TikTok and Facebook if they discover they have engaged in deceptive practices by designing and promoting their products to attract and addict children. That includes inadequate age verification measures, insufficient parental controls and targeted algorithms.

Smith said that, if it’s true that these companies are doing any of those things on purpose, they should be held accountable.

“If it’s true that companies did these things intentionally, then there probably has to be some kind of recompense for districts,” he said. “We have to deal with the impacts of those things.”

The same firms who worked with the district in a lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul a few years back will handle the litigation at no cost to the district.

“They will file suit should they determine that there is a causal relationship and they will be paid by any proceeds from that,” Smith said.

Some parents agreed social media is a huge problem and have seen how it affected their children.

“We’ve had bullying. Not really fights, you know? Disagreements,” said Jeff Fuqua, a concerned parent. “That really upset him. So, yes. Over the years, there’s been all kinds of stuff because of social media.”

“I think some parents allow their kids to have too much screen time,” said Maria Loux, another parent. “They’re seeing things on TikTok that they should not be seeing, especially at such a young age.”

“They just need to take responsibility,” Fuqua added. “They need to worry about taking care of future generations, because they’re in big trouble right now.”

Just last month, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued put out a public advisory and laid out the harmful effects of social media on the mental health of young people.

One of those findings was that those who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing depression and anxiety.

The surgeon general also reported that up to 95% of youth ages 13-17 use a social media platform, with more than a third of those youth saying they use social media “almost constantly.”