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'Nonsense:' Doug Ford slams lawsuits filed by Ontario school boards against social media platforms

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Premier Doug Ford says that lawsuits launched by four Ontario school boards against multiple social media platforms are “nonsense” and risk becoming a distraction to the work that really matters.

The school boards, including three in the Greater Toronto Area, have launched lawsuits seeking $4.5 billion in damages against Snapchat, TikTok, and Meta, the owner of both Facebook and Instagram, for creating products that they allege negligently interfere with student learning and have caused “widespread disruption to the education system.”

But at an unrelated news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Ford said that he “disagrees” with the legal action and worries it could take the focus away from “the core values of education.”

“Let’s focus on math, reading and writing. That is what we need to do, put all the resources into the kids,” he said. “What are they spending lawyers fees to go after these massive companies that have endless cash to fight this? Let’s focus on the kids, not this other nonsense that they are looking to fight in court.” 

Four separate but similar statements of claim were filed in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice on Wednesday by the Toronto District School Board, the Peel District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.

The school boards are represented by Toronto-based law firm Neinstein LLP and in a news release issued Thursday, the firm states that the school boards “will not be responsible for any costs related to the lawsuit unless a successful outcome is reached.”

The suits allege that the social media giants have “knowingly and/or negligently disrupted and fundamentally changed the school, learning, and teaching climate,” causing boards to suffer “substantial damages.”

According to the school boards, the damages include “a significant diversion and drain” on resources and personnel.

“The Defendants chose to maximize profits at the expense of student well-being and without due regard to the foreseeable harm and damage caused,” the statement of claims read.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. CP24 has reached out to the companies for comment.

“Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends," a Snapchat spokesperson said in an email to CP24.com. 

"Snapchat opens directly to a camera – rather than a feed of content – and has no traditional public likes or comments. While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence."

A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement that its app has “industry-leading” safeguards such as parental controls, an automatic 60-minute screen time limit for users under 18 and age-restrictions on features like push notifications and more.

“Our team of Safety professionals continually evaluate emerging practices and insights to support teens' well-being and will continue working to keep our community safe,” the spokesperson said.

Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the director of education with the Toronto District School Board, said social media's impact on children "cannot be denied," stating that it leads to "pervasive problems," including distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, and mental health challenges."  

“It is imperative that we take steps to ensure the well-being of our youth. We are calling for measures to be implemented to mitigate these harms and prioritize the mental health and academic success of our future generation,"  Russell-Rawlins said in a written statement. 

This lawsuits come as hundreds of school districts in the United States file similar suits. 

“A strong education system is the foundation of our society and our community. Social media products and the changes in behaviour, judgement and attention that they cause pose a threat to that system and to the student population our schools serve,” Duncan Embury, the head of litigation at Neinstein LLP, said in the new release.

“We are proud to support our schools and students in this litigation with the goal of holding social media giants accountable and creating meaningful change."

TDSB Statement of Claim by CTV News on Scribd

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