FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – They liken the effects to gambling and recreational drugs.

And they claim the makers behind them are not only deliberately targeting the developing minds of teens and pre-teen children, but outright exploiting them – all for huge financial gains and windfalls.

That’s according to a lawsuit filed Monday by Fort Wayne Community Schools against the owners of several popular social media platforms, claiming the apps are at the core of a mental health crisis that is not only plaguing the district’s students but the nation as a whole.

The school district is the latest of dozens of others throughout the country that are taking aim at platforms including Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.

Officials are seeking monetary damages from owners of the social media platforms that will go toward fighting the mental health problems they see amongst the more than 28,600 students who attend the 52 district schools, according to the suit.

The lawsuit was filed the same day officials announced the district had been awarded a $10 million grant, doled out over the next five years, that will add about 60 mental health care providers to several middle and high schools serving nearly 15,000 students.

More is needed, though, according to district officials in the lawsuit.

“The Defendants’ conduct has led to a mental health crisis among America’s youth,” the lawsuit states. “This is not hyperbole in a lawsuit.”

“Despite Plaintiff’s best efforts, the mental health crisis persists, and the budget is not adequate to take the steps needed to fully address this crisis,” the suit continues. “Plaintiff needs significantly more funding than it has to implement potentially lifesaving programs in the face of this ever-increasing mental health crisis that the Defendants helped create.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, offers a breakdown of how various social media platforms market use toward teens and preteens, how they garner clicks and how they impact developing brains.

“Through their social media platforms, the Defendants have exposed the vulnerable and still developing brains of millions of students across the country to increasing feedback loops,” the lawsuit states.

Officials in the suit also claim these various social media platforms and the algorithms used to get videos to the youth population exacerbate – if not downright cause – issues like self-harm, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

They cite in the lawsuit that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 and the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 5 to 14.

“The rates at which our youth struggle with mental health issues has steadily climbed since the advent of the Defendants’ social media platforms. The Defendants’ misconduct
is a substantial factor in causing all of these problems,” the lawsuit states.

Since January, more than 40 or 50 school districts across the country have filed similar lawsuits against the social media giants, mainly sparked by one filed by the Seattle public schools district.

A statement sent to WANE 15 from the district reads:

Fort Wayne Community Schools joined many other school districts across the country that are suing the companies that operate various social media platforms. The suit alleges that excessive use of social media is harmful to the mental, behavioral and emotional health of young people and is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders and suicide. Social media platforms are design to maximize the time users spend using them, and young people are susceptible to becoming addicted to their use. Like other school districts, FWCS has seen an increase number of students dealing with mental health issues, in part, because of overexposure to social media. FWCS and its employees spend a significant amount of time and resources addressing students’ mental health issues and providing counseling and educational services to students related to the harms caused by social media. By joining this lawsuit, we hope to send a message to social media companies that changes are needed to reduce the addictive qualities of social media and combat the elements of the platforms that are harmful to student mental health.

Some legal experts are skeptical on whether these lawsuits can actually succeed.

“Essentially, schools are saying, ‘Look at what’s happening to our youth, and you, the social media companies, are responsible’,” Robert Hachiya, a Kansas State University education professor and a former school administrator who is an expert in education law, told earlier this month. “There’s no question there is a problem. The issue is, how can social media companies be assigned some kind of liability for this problem?”

Fort Wayne Community School’s lawsuit also follows one Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed against ByteDance, LTD, the owners behind the increasingly popular TikTok.

In that suit, Rokita is seeking to get TikTok to change its 13+ rating in app stores and stop it from marketing itself to teenagers. The proceedings in that lawsuit are currently playing out in Allen County.

Officials hired a personal injury law firm out of northern Kentucky called Hendy Johnson Vaugn Emery to handle the suit.