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Meta, Snap, Others Face Social Media Injury Suits in California

Oct. 6, 2022, 7:35 PM

Meta Platforms Inc. and other social media companies will face consolidated pretrial litigation in California over claims that Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms cause addiction and self-destructive behavior in adolescents, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said.

Other social media giants included in the multidistrict litigation are Alphabet Inc. and its Google LLC and YouTube LLC units; Snap. Inc.; and TikTok Inc. and its parent ByteDance Inc.

The panel acknowledged those companies’ arguments that Snap, TikTok, and YouTube differ from Facebook and Instagram and that users interact with them differently, but said these factual distinctions don’t negate the efficiencies to be gained by industrywide centralization.

Because more than one-quarter of the pending actions involve multiple defendants, protecting the companies’ trade secrets and confidential information would be at issue regardless of whether these cases are included in the MDL, the panel said Thursday.

The seven-member body on Sept. 29 heard arguments on where to venue the more than 80 suits then scattered across about 35 federal districts.

Social media users and families allege that excessive exposure to apps including Facebook and Instagram has led to attempted or actual suicides and other harm. Meta pointed out at the hearing that most of the adolescents named in the litigation used multiple platforms simultaneously, the panel said.

The panel said it has centralized cases involving similar products made by different manufacturers when there are overarching issues about whether the product can cause the alleged harm.

Here, in addition to “persuasively arguing that causation issues will overlap,” across the various platforms, the Meta defendants said all defendants likely will assert the same defenses, the panel said.

Of particular importance is whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet providers from liability for publishing others’ content, immunizes the social media companies from the plaintiffs’ product liability claims.

The lawsuits followed a former Facebook employee’s testimony to Congress that Meta and related companies were aware of the products’ harm to users.

Plaintiff Brianna Murden, 21, alleges that years of exposure to content altered by the platforms’ appearance-enhancing features and curated for her by their algorithms caused depression, eating disorders, and sleeplessness. She asked the panel in August to combine the suits.

The panel assigned to proceedings to Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Several defendants are headquartered in or near the district, and centralization will facilitate coordination with the state court cases pending in California, the panel said.

Beasley Allen, which represents Murden, filed the petition.

Covington & Burling LLP represents Meta and related companies. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati represents Alphabet, Google, and YouTube. Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP represents Snap. King & Spalding LLP and Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP represent TikTok and ByteDance.

The case is In re Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Prod. Liab. Litig., J.P.M.L., No. 3047, 10/6/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagán at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com