By Julie Steinberg
Meta Platforms Inc. agreed that federal lawsuits alleging that Facebook and Instagram, as well as other companies’ social media platforms, cause addiction and self-destructive behavior should be combined into one proceeding, it told the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Brianna Murden, who attributes her depression, eating disorders, and sleeplessness to use of the two platforms, asked the panel earlier this month to create a single, multidistrict proceeding.
Nearly 50 such cases are pending in 26 federal courts, Meta said in a filing Tuesday. All are in a very early stage of litigation, it said.
The lawsuits followed a former Facebook employee’s testimony to Congress that Meta and related companies were aware of the products’ harm to users.
Coordination would allow early resolution of certain legal issues that could warrant dismissal of the litigation, Meta said.
These issues include whether the claims are barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet platforms from liability for publishing content created by others, Meta said.
Other threshold issues include whether the First Amendment bars the claims because they challenge Meta’s editorial control and judgment, and whether the product liability claims fail because the apps are intangible services rather than tangible goods.
If the claims advance past dismissal, there are “serious questions” about whether the plaintiffs will have reliable support for their theory that use of the defendants’ apps can cause “social media addiction,” the company said. The plaintiffs acknowledge this condition isn’t recognized by the DSM-5, the manual that used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, Meta said.
Focusing first on general causation in a single proceeding would make the litigation more efficient, Meta said.
But Meta disagreed with Murden’s requests to combine the suits in the Northern District of Illinois or the Western District of Missouri.
The Eastern or Western Districts of Kentucky, the Middle District of Florida, or the Northern District of Georgia provide convenient locations and more manageable dockets, Meta said.
Meta also urged the panel to include claims against all named defendants in an MDL, saying more than one-third of the pending cases involve multiple companies and even the lawsuits naming only Meta likely involve apps operated by others.
But other companies disagreed.
In three separate filings, Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, and YouTube LLC; Snap. Inc.; and TikTok Inc. and ByteDance Inc. told the panel that including them in an industry-wide MDL would needlessly complicate the proceeding and undermine efficiency.
Meta, Snap, TikTok, and YouTube offer completely different services and users interact with their apps in fundamentally different ways, the filings 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 Prods. Liab. Litig., J.P.M.L., No. 3047, response 8/30/22.
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By Julie Steinberg