Native American tribes sue social media giants over youth suicides

Social media

In a bid to address the alarming rates of suicide among Native American youth, two tribal nations have taken legal action against major social media companies.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles county court, targets Meta Platforms (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram), Snap Inc. (owner of Snapchat), ByteDance (parent company of TikTok), and Alphabet (which owns YouTube and Google).

The complaint alleges that these platforms, with their addictive design choices, exacerbate mental health issues among Native youth.

According to the Pew Research Center, virtually all US teenagers use social media and roughly one in six describes their use as “almost constant”.

Lonna Jackson-Street, chairperson of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota, highlighted the vulnerability of Native youth to the relentless scrolling encouraged by social media.

“Endless scrolling is rewiring our teenagers’ brains” stated Gena Kakkak, chairwoman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

Kakkak emphasised the demand for accountability. “We are demanding these social media corporations take responsibility for intentionally creating dangerous features that ramp up the compulsive use of social media by the youth on our Reservation.”

The lawsuit describes “a sophisticated and intentional effort that has caused a continuing, substantial and long-term burden to the Tribe and its members”.

Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that resources from vital programmes have been diverted to address problems social media have caused.

Disproportionately high suicide rates

Similar legal actions are underway across the US with schools, cities and states accusing social media companies of exploiting young users. New York City and Ontario school boards have voiced concerns over the impact on mental health and education.

In response to the lawsuit, Google denied the allegations. “Providing young people with a safer, healthier experience has always been core to our work” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement.

Snap Inc. reiterated its dedication to fostering user connections while acknowledging the need for ongoing improvement.

Native Americans see disproportionately high suicide rates, compounded by limited access to mental health care and historical trauma.

Social media can offer connections to culture and community. However it exposes users to discrimination and lacks adequate policies to address these issues.

Andrea Wiglesworth, a researcher on stress in Native populations, highlighted the complex interplay between cultural identity and online experiences. She stressed the importance of Indigenous communities navigating these digital spaces responsibly.

While research on the impact of social media on mental health is ongoing, experts emphasise the need for regulation to protect young users. Calls for legislative action to curb exploitative practices and promote online safety have gained bipartisan support.

Where to get help

  • In a life-threatening situation, call 111
  • 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor
  • Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
  • 0800 111 757 or text 4202
  • Lifeline 0800 543 354
  • Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Yellow Brick Road 0800 732 825
  • Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
  • What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for up to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily
  • Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email and find online chat and other support options here


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