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Washington superintendent has an eye on Seattle schools' social media lawsuit

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Washington state's Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says his office will closely watch Seattle Public Schools' lawsuit against several social media companies, but there are no current plans for his office to get involved.

At a Monday press conference, Reykdal said that social media has created a different experience for young people than adults understand. He noted the positive attributes of social media — its ability to educate, advance knowledge, inquire, and connect people. But its effects don't end there, he argued, saying that the lawsuit is an "important way to shed light on a critical issue."

RELATED: Seattle, Kent schools' lawsuits against social media giants have a 'scientific basis,' expert says

"You can't just sell the positives of it without recognizing that some of the darkest things students see are on there," he said. "And that too has an impact and influence. These devices are with them every day...we were insulated. We had a chance to go through hard times, bumps and bruises, puberty and bullying and other tough things in a world where that didn't follow us home. It wasn't there when we woke up in the morning, it wasn't in our face in text and print and in social media, and in messaging.

"There is something profoundly different about being a young person on planet Earth today," Reykdal continued. "And if this lawsuit sheds light on that, and if the industry asks itself hard questions on how to double down on the protection of young people, I think that's good."

Seattle Public Schools is suing Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, and Meta (Instagram and Facebook), claiming they are creating a mental health crisis among students. The lawsuit argues that the companies have created a public nuisance by targeting social media products at kids. It notes that a whistleblower in 2021 revealed that Facebook knew its platform negatively affected teenagers, harming their perceptions of body image, and worsening eating disorders and thoughts of suicides. The school district is seeking damages, payment for treatment for excessive use, and more.

RELATED: 3 key takeaways on the Seattle schools lawsuit against big tech

Reykdal noted that suicide rates among public school students declined during the pandemic, but rose in 2022. He also says there is evidence the tech industry has done a lot to try to help young people and their families.

RELATED: Could now be the time to consider a post-social media future?

"Unfortunately, others hide behind some American ideology and unfortunately, it is damaging our young people," Reykdal said. "It is not OK to say whatever you want, wherever you want. In fact, it is illegal sometimes. Some speech is harmful, dangerous, hate speech and we've got to figure out how to limit this in some way that is within the law, protect people's First Amendment rights. But our kids are wearing this. So I welcome anything that changes the conversation, and quite frankly, moves it in some cases to the states. Because I think, if I might be candid with you, the rules have been cooked pretty well at the federal level to insulate folks from any meaningful liability, in the same way we see gun violence never landing on those who should take much greater responsibility."

Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.

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