School Boards initiate litigation against Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok

April 4, 2024 | Kate Genest

Last week, four Ontario school boards issued claims against the companies behind Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok, alleging that they negligently design products that disrupt learning and negatively affect student behaviour, requiring school boards to devote resources to managing the impact.

The claims of the Toronto District School Board, Peel District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are seeking a combined total of approximately $4.5 billion in damages. The claims additionally seek an order compelling the social-media companies to redesign their products to better protect students.

The school boards have alleged that the named social-media platforms facilitate and promote cyberbullying, harassment, hate speech and misinformation, and have played a part in escalating physical violence and conflicts in schools. The claims additionally allege that the named apps are “purposefully designed” to be addictive, and deliver harmful content to students with negative impacts on self esteem, self worth, and ability to focus on learning. The school boards argue that, in response, they have had to devote their finite resources to additional in-school mental health programming and personnel, among other costs.

Law suits of this nature and complexity are certainly no small undertaking. To advance their claims, the plaintiff school boards will need to amass evidence regarding their students’ use patterns of the named social media apps, and the impacts of that usage on school boards, while abiding by applicable privacy legislation.

Attention will also have to be paid to the issue of causation, as the plaintiffs will need to demonstrate that the apps are the direct cause for the harm suffered by school boards, as opposed to other external factors affecting the delivery of educational services.

It may be anticipated that the social media providers will argue a defence of contributory negligence, and allege that any harm experienced from the use of the apps could have been mitigated by more stringent control by the school board plaintiffs. Legislation banning social media access for young people, such as has been adopted in Florida, could form part of the argument.

The Ontario school board plaintiffs will be watching over 200 similar claims filed by their U.S. counterparts. Although Premier Doug Ford has called the claims “nonsense”, we may expect some important focus and debate on the harms caused by social media as a result of the suits that were filed last week.

Miller Thomson’s Education group advises publically funded school boards, private schools and private colleges and universities on a variety of legal matters, including labour and employment, human rights, health and safety, governance, policies and procedures, access to information and protection of privacy, school closings, school councils, risk management, student discipline, and special education.


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