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The civil complaint alleges the firms running TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, are fueling a mental health crisis among young people.

The Bucks County Commissioners and District Attorney have jointly filed a civil suit against leading social media companies including Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, alleging that their platforms designed to encourage youth addiction are fueling a mental health crisis among young people.

The suit was filed in federal court in California on Tuesday and claims that the social media companies "can and should take measures to stem the tide of the mental health crisis afflicting America's social media-addicted youth."

Bucks County appears to be the first county government to join the multi-district legislation.

According to the complaint, the platforms manipulate users with "Intermittent Variable Rewards" (IVRs) that deliver addicting shots of dopamine as users browse continuous, algorithmic, personalized streams of content and advertisements.

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to these tactics, the complaint states, as social media's "social rewards" feel even more satisfying to the developing adolescent brain. The demographic is a central part of the companies' business model, with over 90% of children aged 13-17 reporting they use social media.

The complaint alleges that increased social media use has led to higher rates of mental distress among children. In 2021, 51% of girls reported experiencing "persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness," up from 36% in 2011. Boys also reported increased feelings of sadness and hopelessness from 21% to 29% during the same period.

In Bucks County, screenings conducted during the 2021-2022 school year found that 34% of school-aged youth were at risk for moderate-to-severe depression, and 40% were at risk for significant anxiety. Additionally, over a quarter of school-aged youth had a history of suicidal ideation.

"While the County funds, offers and supports numerous mental health services for children, teens, and families, the systems in place are struggling to keep pace with growing levels of despair among young people," said District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub.

The County has also seen an increase in behavioral issues related to social media, resulting in commitments of law enforcement resources. In one instance in 2022, a teen boy was arrested for threatening to "shoot up" a high school on Snapchat. In others, children participating in TikTok "challenges" have caused panics, injured people, and damaged property.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California's Oakland Division, where the law firm representing Bucks County, Robbins Gellar Rudman & Dowd, has brought similar actions.

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This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.