FLORENCE, Ky. — A northern Kentucky school district is joining others in the state in filing federal lawsuits against several prominent social media companies.

Boone County Schools claims the companies are intentionally guiding kids toward harmful content, negatively affecting their mental health.

What You Need To Know

  • Boone County Schools is joining other Kentucky school districts in filing lawsuits against social media companies

  • Candace Nordine, a Boone County mom, says she and her husband already limit their four daughters’ use of social media

  • Nordine believes social media is directly linked to increased depression and anxiety in teenage girls

  • The school district’s attorney says social media platforms are manipulating the content kids see negatively

Candace Nordine, a Boone County parent, has some potent feelings about social media. And while she tries to limit her own use of it, even she sometimes can’t escape the hold it has on many people. She also needs to use it to post content for her job.

Her children, however, are another story. Her child, who’s a sophomore in high school, didn’t get a social media account until about four months ago.

Candace Nordine says only the oldest of her four daughters, a high school sophomore, is allowed to use social media, and was only allowed to start using it recently. (Candace Nordine)

“We have specific convictions about that, and reasons we didn’t want her on it. And our middle schoolers don’t have social media at all, and actually, they don’t even have devices, cellphones or anything that they use,” Nordine said. “We just figured they’re gonna have them plenty the rest of their lives. They don’t need them in these years.”

Nordine recalled her daughter repeatedly asking for access. “And basically, it was just like, no, because we love you,” she said. “We’re doing this to protect you. You have to go against the grain.”

Nordine’s four daughters attend schools in the Boone County Schools district. BCS is joining about a dozen other districts in Kentucky in filing federal lawsuits against social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Google and YouTube.

Attorney Ron Johnson, whose firm is representing those districts, explained what BCS is claiming.

“Boone County decided that it had been impacted by the mental health issues that are caused by social media, that its students had, and that it had certainly incurred costs related to that, and that it was an important thing for it to do on behalf of its students, and the members of its communities,” Johnson said.

Johnson then explained what the district is hoping to accomplish with the lawsuit: stopping behavior that’s been harmful to kids.

“This is not a lawsuit against social media as a general concept. It’s a lawsuit against something they’re doing that they haven’t always done. And that is manipulating the kind of content we see. And in the case of kids, this is really problematic,” Johnson said. “The second thing is, yeah, there’s been a marked increase in the cost of mental health care that schools provide. And schools don’t have a choice about this. They’re there to educate and instruct kids. And if kids come to school with mental health problems that prevent them from learning, then the schools can’t turn a blind eye to it, they have to address it. And that means costs.”

Nordine said the lawsuit doesn’t surprise her. She and her husband have taken it upon themselves to learn more about the potential harm social media can cause to kids.

Boone County Schools is joining other Kentucky school districts in filing federal lawsuits against several prominent social media companies. (Spectrum News 1/Sam Knef)

They came across research from psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge from San Diego State University, which showed them social media is the number one source of depression and anxiety for teenage girls, and that suicide is the number two killer for teenage girls.

“You see the direct correlation of its use, and that’s scary as a parent,” she said. “I think of it as I wouldn’t want my kids to partake in using cocaine or other substance abuses, right? Well, the phone, social media is a type of drug.”

Nordine said she’s also very concerned kids aren’t developing proper communication skills.

“I’ve seen it happen with friends’ kids, who, they’re spending nine hours a day on TikTok. And they don’t know how to interact with each other,” she said. “It’s hurting our students.”

Johnson said he’s confident the school districts will prevail in court.

“We know that our proof regarding the use of these algorithms applies to the defendants that have been named,” he said. “There have been numerous studies published in peer-reviewed journals that show that social media, and specifically these algorithms that manipulate what the kids are seeing, causes them to have mental health issues. This is not a lawsuit we would’ve brought without that kind of proof.”

Nordine said she’s happy to see schools take a stance, but she thinks it’s up to parents to set the right example.

“The school can only do so much. Parents do have to do stuff at home. Parents can’t just give up that responsibility to the schools, or whoever,” she said. “That addiction is there. What are we going to do about it?”

Johnson said, because of the complexity and amount of work that goes into these types of cases, they can take up to three to four years to resolve.