SEATTLE, Wash. – The big U.S. social media firms, like the cigarette, oil, gun, opioid, and vape businesses before them, are now facing lawsuits launched by public agencies seeking to hold them accountable for a massive societal problem – in this case, the mental health crisis among youngsters.
However, the new cases — one filed by a public school district in Seattle last week, another by a suburban district on Monday, and almost definitely more to follow — face an uncertain legal path.
Next month, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on how federal law protects the computer industry from such claims when social media algorithms push potentially dangerous information.
Even if the Supreme Court grants permission for lawsuits like Seattle’s, the district faces difficulty showing the industry’s liability.
And the tech industry says there are many ways in which the effects of social media on teens’ mental health are different from, say, how big pharma promotes opioid addiction.
There Are Many Ways Social Media Effects Teens
“The fundamental premise is that the tech business is to blame for teens’ emotional state because they recommended content that has caused emotional injury,” vice president of tech industry trade organization NetChoice, said. “It would be ludicrous to sue Barnes & Noble because a staff member recommended a book that caused emotional harm or upset a youngster.” But that is precisely what this lawsuit does.”
Seattle Public Schools sued the digital titans behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat on Friday, arguing they had created a public nuisance by marketing to youngsters. The Kent School District in the Seattle suburbs followed suit on Monday.
The districts blame the companies for mental health and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and cyberbullying, making it making difficult to educate students; and forcing schools to take steps such as hiring more mental health professionals, developing lesson plans about the effects of social media, and providing additional teacher training.
Unprecidented Life Challenges
“Young people everywhere — face unprecedented learning and life challenges that are exacerbated by the negative effects of increased screen time, potentially addictive social media properties,” Seattle Superintendent Brent Jones said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We hope this action will help reverse this trend for our students.”
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects online businesses from being held responsible for what other people post on their platforms. But the complaints say that the rule, which was made before there were any social media platforms, doesn’t protect the tech giants in this case because their algorithms favor harmful information.
This is also the issue in Gonzalez v. Google, YouTube’s parent firm, which the Supreme Court will hear on February 21. In another instance, the family of an American lady slain in an Islamic State group attack in Paris in 2015 claims that YouTube’s algorithms helped the terror group recruit.
If the Supreme Court rules that digital corporations can be held accountable in such cases, school districts will still have to prove that social media was to blame. Seattle’s lawsuit says that between 2009 and 2019, the number of students who said they felt “so unhappy or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” that they stopped doing some of their usual activities rose by 30%.
However, Szabo noted that Seattle’s graduation rates have been rising since 2019 when many youngsters relied on social media to stay in touch with their pals during the pandemic. He said that the number of people who graduate from high school would be going up if social media were so bad for the district’s educational efforts.
“The complaint focuses solely on how social media damages children, and there may be evidence of that,” said Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. “However, there is a lot of evidence that social media improves teenagers and other children. We don’t know what the distress rate would be like if social media didn’t exist. The distress rate might probably be higher rather than lower.”
Company’s Care About The Safety Of Its Users
The companies have said that they care about the safety of their users, especially children. They have tools that make it easier for parents to know who their children are talking to. They have also made it easier for people to find mental health resources on social media, like the new 988 crisis hotline. They have also made it easier to check a user’s age and set limits on how much time they can spend on their devices.
“When teens join Instagram, we immediately switch their profiles to private, and we send reminders encouraging them to take regular breaks,” Meta‘s global head of safety, said “We do not allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders, and we identify over 99% of the content we remove or take action on before it is reported to us.”
Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, released internal studies in 2021 that showed the company knew Instagram was bad for kids because it hurt their body image and made eating disorders and suicidal thoughts worse. She claimed the platform put profits ahead of safety and concealed its research from investors and the general public.
Josh Golin, the executive director of Fairplay, an organization that protects children from commercialization and marketing, says that even if social media helps some students, it doesn’t make up for the huge harm it does to many others.
“The mental health expenses to students are astronomical, as is the amount of time schools have to spend monitoring and responding to social media drama,” Golin added. “It is ludicrous that schools are liable for the devastation created by these social media sites to young people. Nobody is witnessing the kinds of cumulative effects that social media is having on school districts.”
Both claims were filed in the United States District Court, but they are based on state public nuisance law – a wide, ill-defined legal notion with origins dating back to 13th century England. In Washington, a public nuisance is “any illegal act and every failure to do a duty” that “annoys, hurts, or threatens the safety, health, comfort, or rest of a large number of people.”
Tabacco Industries Under Constant Fire
Most notably, public nuisance allegations aided the tobacco industry in reaching a $246 billion, 25-year settlement with the states in 1998. However, state, city, county, and tribal governments have used public nuisance legislation to hold oil firms accountable for climate change, the gun business for gun violence, the pharmaceutical sector for the opioid crisis, and vaping companies like Juul accountable for teen vaping.
The majority of the litigation is still continuing. Juul Labs agreed to resolve thousands of lawsuits, including 1,400 from school districts, towns, and counties, for an estimated $1.2 billion last month.
The Seattle lawsuit could lead to many changes, raising questions about whether it is right to solve big social problems in court instead of through laws. However, the school system faces little risk because the complaint was brought on a contingency basis, which means the company is only paid if the action is successful.
Jolina Cuaresma, senior counsel for privacy and technology policy at Common Sense Media, which works to make media safer for children, said she was pleased to see a school district file a public nuisance lawsuit against internet corporations.
“People have grown impatient of waiting for Congress to act,” she remarked.
SOURCE – (AP)
Man Wanted In Killing Of Baltimore Tech Entrepreneur Pava LaPere Is Arrested, Police Say
BALTIMORE — Officials said Thursday that police had been searching for the man arrested in a Baltimore tech entrepreneur slaying since last week as a suspect in a separate rape and arson.
Jason Billingsley, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pava LaPere, 26, was released from prison in October 2016 after accumulating good behavior credits to reduce his sentence for a 2013 sexual assault.
Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department Richard Worley stated at a news conference on Thursday that detectives believe LaPere was murdered on Friday evening, even though her body was not discovered until after she was reported missing on Monday. The Johns Hopkins University graduate, who founded the tech startup EcoMap Technologies while still a student, was discovered deceased in her flat complex with signs of blunt force trauma.
Brandon Scott, the mayor of Baltimore, questioned why Billingsley was released from prison so soon after his sexual assault conviction, but he noted that police are only one component of a larger system that includes prosecutors, courts, and prisons.\
“We are aware that we are discussing a system with which we must also contend,” he said.
Worley stated that investigators are evaluating all open cases since Billingsley’s release in October 2022 to determine whether any connections exist.
This violent criminal offender and repeat offender will be returned to prison, where he belongs, Worley stated. Now, let’s all collaborate to ensure that he stays there.
The family of LaPere thanked the city police and their law enforcement colleagues for their “tireless efforts” during the investigation and capture of the suspect.
Man Wanted In Killing Of Baltimore Tech Entrepreneur Pava LaPere Is Arrested, Police Say.
“We’re relieved to know he can no longer hurt other innocent victims,” the family said. While this does not alter the fact that Baltimore lost one of its most devoted and influential admirers, we will continue to honor Pava Marie’s life, achievements, and legacy.
According to an application for an arrest warrant, the victim in the 2013 case told police that during the assault, he displayed a knife and strangled her. Ivan Bates, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, stated that Billingsley pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree sex assault, for which state guidelines prescribe a sentence of 15 to 25 years, but Billingsley received a sentence of 30 years with all but 14 years suspended as part of a plea agreement.
Bates stated that the judge who sentenced Billingsley hesitated before approving the plea agreement reached between prosecutors and Billingsley’s counsel. However, the judge ultimately approved the terms of the agreement.
According to court documents, Billingsley was convicted of second-degree assault in 2011 and first-degree assault in 2009.
Police say Billingsley is also a suspect in a rape, attempted murder, and arson that occurred in Baltimore on September 19. Within hours of the crime, a warrant was issued for Billingsley, and detectives have been actively searching for him ever since, including through his mobile and social media use, interviewing witnesses and monitoring his known addresses, according to Worley.
“When we held a press conference about the death of LaPere, we were approximately 88 metres away from capturing the suspect, but he was able to evade capture,” Worley said.
According to Worley, Billingsley knew the victims of the September 19 incident, which was not a random act, but the department did not warn the public about Billingsley at the time. According to him, the police have no reason to suspect LaPere knew Billingsley.
Man Wanted In Killing Of Baltimore Tech Entrepreneur Pava LaPere Is Arrested, Police Say.
“I hope this sends a message to anyone else who enjoys committing these kinds of cowardly, heinous acts that we will not tolerate it and will remove you from the streets of Baltimore,” said the mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott.
The public defender’s office, which has previously represented Billingsley, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it was too soon to comment on this case. Thursday morning, the office waited to respond to an email seeking comment on behalf of Billingsley.
Bates stated that if a grand jury returns an indictment, his office will pursue a life sentence without parole.
“If this person is found guilty in a court of law, he or she will never again be able to harm any of the citizens of our fine city,” Bates said.
LaPere, named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for social impact earlier this year, was remembered at a vigil on Wednesday evening as someone who remained committed to building community and using entrepreneurship to create meaningful social change even as her national profile increased.
LaPere remained committed to the philanthropic endeavors that initially inspired her as she developed EcoMap, a platform that uses technology to curate data and make it more accessible throughout social ecosystems.
Frank LaPere, her father, told the crowd of more than 100 people assembled for the vigil, “She knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish, and nothing could stand in her way.”
according to Taboola
SOURCE – (AP)
Sony Is Once Again Facing A Potential Security Breach, This Time By A Ransomware Group
Once more, Sony faces the possibility of a security breach, this time from a ransomware group alleging to have compromised PlayStation systems. On Sunday, the group LAPSUS$ proclaimed the alleged hack on their dark website. This could have significant implications for PlayStation users, although details remain scant.
According to the ransomware group, they have compromised all Sony systems and seized valuable information, including game source code and firmware. As “proof,” they have provided screen captures of what appears to be an internal login page, PowerPoint presentation, and file directory.
However, according to cybersecurity specialists, this information could be more convincing. Cyber Security Connect stated, “None of it appears to be particularly compelling information.” They suspect that LAPSUS$ may have exaggerated the scope of their breach.
Based on the limited data available, it is extremely difficult to determine the scope or integrity of the hackers’ claims. PlayStation’s online services do not appear to have been impacted so far, with no word if user data is at risk.
Sony Is Once Again Facing A Potential Security Breach, This Time By A Ransomware Group.
Not for the first time have Sony’s systems been targeted. In 2011, the PlayStation Network was compromised, exposing the personal information of 77 million users. Sony ultimately locked down PSN for nearly a month to improve security.
In 2014, North Korea launched a devastating cyberattack against Sony Pictures in retaliation for the film The Interview. The release of terabytes of sensitive data, including scripts for upcoming films and employees’ personal and medical information. Time will tell if Sony can once again recover its systems from a significant cyberattack. However, PlayStation users may need to prepare for potential consequences.
If LAPSUS$’s claims are accurate, this breach could have comparable repercussions. There is a possibility that sensitive source code and intellectual property could be compromised. There is also the possibility of significant PlayStation Network service disruptions. As with any hack, we recommend that users alter any passwords used on any PlayStation service to avoid problems with other online accounts.
CGMagazine has sought out Sony for comment, but at the time of publication, the company has neither confirmed nor denied the breach’s scope; we will update the article if the situation changes.
SOURCE – (cgmagonline)
Amazon Is Investing Up To $4 Billion In AI Startup Anthropic In Growing Tech Battle
Amazon is investing up to $4 billion in artificial intelligence startup Anthropic and acquiring a minority stake in the company, the two companies announced on Monday.
The investment underscores how Big Tech companies are pouring money into AI as they race to capitalize on the opportunities that the latest iteration of the technology is set to fuel.
According to Amazon and Anthropic, the agreement is part of a larger collaboration to develop so-called foundation models, which are the basis for the generative AI systems that have garnered worldwide attention.
Foundation models, also known as large language models, are trained on vast online information pools, such as blog posts, digital books, scientific articles, and pop songs, to generate text, images, and videos that resemble human labor.
Amazon Is Investing Up To $4 Billion In AI Startup Anthropic In Growing Tech Battle.
Under the terms of the agreement, Anthropic will use Amazon as its primary cloud computing service and train and deploy its generative AI systems using Amazon’s custom processors.
Anthropic, based in San Francisco, was founded by former employees of OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT AI chatbot that made a global impact with its ability to generate responses that resembled human responses.
Anthropic has released Claude, its own ChatGPT competitor. The most recent version, available in the United States and the United Kingdom, can “sophisticated dialogue, creative content generation, complex reasoning, and detailed instruction,” according to the company.
Amazon is racing to catch up to competitors such as Microsoft, which invested $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019 and another multibillion-dollar investment at the beginning of the year.
Amazon has been releasing new services to keep up with the AI arms race, such as an update to its popular assistant Alexa that enables users to have more human-like conversations and AI-generated summaries of consumer product reviews.
SOURCE – (AP)
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