Instagram, TikTok teen addiction lawsuits grouped in northern California

  • New industrywide MDL combines cases against Meta’s Instagram and Facebook, plus TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube
  • Plaintiffs accuse the social-media apps of defective design, failure to warn of potential harm

(Reuters) – More than 80 cases alleging that TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites are designed to hook young users – even at the cost of their physical and mental health – will be grouped for pretrial proceedings in federal court in Oakland, California, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled Thursday.

The panel opted for industrywide multidistrict litigation (MDL) for the lawsuits, even though 70 percent of the cases so far name only Meta Platforms’ Facebook or Instagram as defendants.

Meta supported plaintiff Brianna Murden’s motion to create the MDL. The parent companies of Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube vehemently opposed it, arguing that their services operate differently from Meta’s and that a “behemoth, industrywide MDL” would be unmanageable.

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The panel, however, identified several overlapping areas, including allegations of “indivisible injuries from multiple products,” and the companies’ “likely” common defenses – particularly that they are shielded from liability by the Communications Decency Act and the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

“Centralization of all actions, therefore, will allow for efficient coordination of briefing and rulings on motions to dismiss, as well as (evidentiary) motions,” US District Judge Karen Caldwell, who chairs the JPML, wrote Thursday.

Murden’s lawyer, Joseph VanZandt of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Meta said the company cannot comment on pending litigation. Attorneys for the other defendants had no immediate response.

When VanZandt filed the motion on Aug. 1, just 28 cases were pending. Now there are at least 84, the panel said.

All the actions were filed after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told Congress last year that “internal Meta documents show that Defendants were aware of the harm its products cause users, especially female children and adolescents,” the motion said.

Murden, 21, alleges that she started using Facebook and Instagram at age 10 and developed “social media compulsion, disordered eating, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, multiple periods of suicidal ideation, severe anxiety,” and other injuries as a result.

She asked the JPML to assign the cases to a federal judge in Chicago or Western Missouri. Although Meta is based in northern California, it asked the panel to choose a less-busy court.

The panel chose the Northern District of California because all defendants are headquartered or have significant operations in the state. It assigned the cases to US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, an experienced MDL judge.

“We are confident she will steer this matter on a prudent course,” the panel said.

The case is In re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 3047.

For moving Brianna Murden: Joseph VanZandt of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles

For Meta Platforms: Phyllis Jones of Covington & Burling

For Snap and Snapchat: Jonathan Blavin of Munger, Tolles & Olson

For ByteDance and TikTok: Albert Giang of King & Spalding

For Alphabet, Google & YouTube: Brian Willen of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

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