School boards target social media titans in ‘wakeup call’: Expert

Lawsuits launched against social media giants by four Ontario school boards claiming social media platforms are disrupting student learning should be “a wakeup call for all of us,” a London-area education expert says.

Lawsuits launched against social media giants by four Ontario school boards claiming social media platforms are disrupting student learning should be “a wakeup call for all of us,” a London-area education expert says.

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The Toronto District school board, the Peel District school board, the Toronto Catholic District school board and the Ottawa-Carleton District school board filed separate lawsuits last week against Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc. and ByteDance Ltd. that operate the platforms Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

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The school boards are asking for $4.5 billion in total damages claiming the social platforms negligently designed for compulsive use and have rewired the way children think, behave and learn, leaving teachers and schools to deal with the consequences.

“This is first I’ve seen a co-operative approach of school boards of this scale designed to address a matter of social concern,” said Bill Tucker, a professor in the faculty of education at Western University and former education director at the Thames Valley District school board, which called the action “a wakeup call.”

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School boards have had “to increasingly invest additional financial resources to help support students with mental health, social skills, online bullying and inappropriate actions related to social media,” Tucker said.

The boards, he said, are looking “to help support kids. . . by sending a message to the software companies that they need to be part of the solution.”

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Charlene Doak-Gebauer, a London-area author and expert in online child protection, said cellphone use poses a major threat to children not just because of social media but also because of generative A1 that can be used to lure children into dangerous situations.

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“Cellphones are the most dangerous device a child can have,” she said. “Children do not have the emotional capacity nor do they have the life experiences to deal with everything that is coming at them through their cellphones.”

Children are “incredibly” addicted to social media, Doak-Gebauer said.

“I am of the belief there should be laws in place that no child should be given a cellphone,” she said. “We can sue Meta, we can sue social media, but cellphones is where is it originating.”

The boards are seeking damages in excess of $4 billion for disruption to student learning and the education system.

Students are experiencing an attention, learning, and mental health crisis, the suits claim, because of prolific and compulsive use of social media products.

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“The fallout of compulsive use of social media amongst students is causing massive strains on the four school boards’ finite resources, including additional needs for in-school mental health programming and personnel, increased IT costs, and additional administrative resources,” the school boards wrote in a news release.

“The goal of the litigation is to provide school boards with the resources needed to support student programming and services, and to respond to the school-based problems social media giants have caused.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce recently said he is so concerned about cellphone use he is “bringing forth a policy that will limit cellphone use in schools.

“Often when cellphones are being used, it’s because of social media, bullying, trafficking and other threats,” he said.

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In 2019, Ontario mandated cellphones be restricted in the classroom and only used for educational purposes, but that has been difficult for some teachers to enforce.

Last year, Quebec banned all cellphones from classroomsa policy that will be in effect when students return to school this fall.

“I am committed to taking a zero-tolerance policy,” Lecce said. “Obviously, many parents want to talk to their kids through the day, I get that. It’s about creating responsible usage policies.

“When you are in front of a teacher, the phone is off your desk, out of sight, out of mind.”

– with files from Canadian Press

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