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Enfield mother sues Instagram, Snapchat claiming the social media platforms are responsible for her 11-year-old daughter’s death by suicide

An Enfield mother has sued the parent companies of Instagram and Snapchat, claiming the two popular Internet platforms are responsible for her 11-year old daughter’s death by targeting children with intentionally dangerous and addicting content.

The federal suit, filed in San Francisco against Meta Platforms and Snap, claims the social media platforms operate on algorithms intentionally designed to entrap children and teens. Tammy Rodriguez says her daughter became hopelessly addicted to social media and, over the two years leading to her death in July, suffered from depression, sleep deprivation, eating disorders, and self-harm and other emotional problems — all the result of around-the-clock use of Instagram and Snapchat.

The Courant is not naming the child because of her age.

The suit was filed in Rodriguez’s behalf by the Bay-area Social Media Victims Law Center, which calls itself a public interest law resource for parents of children and teenage “victims suffering from depression, an eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm or suicide as a result of social media cyberbullying.” It reflects growing concern over unchecked social media use by children and relies in part on leaked, internal corporate documents that it says shows the platforms put profitability above children’s health.

“Defendants have invested billions of dollars to intentionally design their products to be addictive and encourage use that they know to be problematic and highly detrimental to their users’ mental health,” the suit claims. “For example, internal, non-public data collected by Instagram and Snapchat reveal large numbers of its users— particularly teenage girls — are engaging in problematic use of its products.”

The suit claims that Rodriguez’s daughter struggled for more than two years with an extreme addiction to Instagram and Snapchat before her death. When her mother took away her electronic devices, she ran away. The child repeatedly received mental health treatment for addiction, without success, and on outpatient therapist reported that she had never seen a patient so addicted to social media, according to the suit.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez’s daughter increased the time she spent on Instagram and Snapchat, worsening her depression and inability to sleep. The result was absences from school and an investigation by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, according to the suit.

The suit said that Rodriguez’s daughter was solicited by adult men to post sexually exploitive content. The content the child sent was leaked and shared with her school classmates, the suit claims.

Prior to her death, Rodriguez’s daughter was hospitalized for emergency psychiatric care, according to the suit.

The suit claims Meta Platforms and Snap failed to protect Rodriguez’s daughter from harmful and exploitive content; verify minor users’ age and identity; have adequate parental control and monitoring; protect minor users from intentionally being directed to harmful and exploitive content; offer protection for minor users from being sexually exploited and abused; design non-addictive social media products; and provide adequate notification to parents about the dangerous and problematic usage of social media by minor users.

“This isn’t a question of opinion. Internal documents and testimony before Congress by a former employee reveal that Meta Platforms was fully aware of the flaws and addictive properties of its social media platforms and failed to adequately design their products to protect minor users from harm,” said Matthew P. Bergman, one of Rodriguez’s lawyers and founder of Social Media Victims Law Center. “Similarly, no safeguards are in place on Snapchat. [Rodriguez’s daughter’s] suicide is a direct result of the inaction and deliberate addictive design of these social media platforms to prey on vulnerable children.”

Rodriguez said through a spokesman that she is not doing interviews about the suit.

A Snapchat spokesperson said, “We are devastated to hear of [Rodriguez’s daughter’s] passing and our hearts go out to her family. While we can’t comment on the specifics of active litigation, nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community.

“In fact, Snapchat helps people communicate with their real friends, without some of the public pressure and social comparison features of traditional social media platforms, and intentionally makes it hard for strangers to contact young people,” the spokesman added. “We work closely with many mental health organizations to provide in-app tools and resources for Snapchatters as part of our ongoing work to keep our community safe.”

A Meta spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

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