A news article on LAtimes.com reports that a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against social media app Snapchat for allegedly causing the death of one family’s 16-year-old loved one. The report states that the victim looked to his phone for assistance prior to taking his own life. According to the federal lawsuit filed in California, the 16-year-old boy was receiving anonymous messages for several months through Yolo, a popular Snapchat app. The Yolo messages included taunting and sexual comments.
The Yolo messages were coming from users who knew him, but the way the app is designed, it was impossible for the victim to determine who was sending the barrage of hateful messages. Also, if the victim replied to the messages, the Yolo app would automatically publish the original message publicly, showing the victim’s embarrassment to the world.
Tragically, the boy’s family found him dead on June 23, 2020. The boy’s cell phone history revealed that he was searching online for information about how to reveal a YOLO username online that morning.
The victim’s mother is heading a wrongful death lawsuit against Snap, Yolo, and LMK. LMK is another anonymous messaging app designed for Snapchat that another teenager used prior to his suicide. The victim’s mother’s complaint alleges that Snap, Yolo, and LMK violated U.S. Consumer Protection Law by neglecting their own terms of service and policies and that their “anonymous messaging apps facilitate bullying to such a degree that they should be considered dangerous products.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, is seeking to create a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 90 million U.S. users of Snapchat, 1 million users of LMK, and 10 million users of Yolo. A co-plaintiff in the wrongful death case is a nonprofit organization formed to stop bullying. The organization was created by the family of an 18-year-old boy who took his life in 2010 after he experienced severe cyberbullying and harassment by one of his dorm mates at Rutgers University.
There was no official statement provide by Snap, Yolo, and LMK due to pending litigation. The lawsuit hopes to have Yolo and LMK stripped off of the Snapchat platform and other apps that have failed to create safeguards against cyberbullying. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages for the alleged harms and misrepresentations.
According to the victim’s mother, the executives at Snapchat, LMK, and Yolo irresponsibly put profits over the safety and mental health of teens and young adults, and they need to be held accountable.”
A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling potentially opened the door to social media companies being held liable for creating or enabling features that are dangerous to its users that the products are essentially defective.
The lawsuit alleges that that anonymous messaging features such as Yolo and LMK present an unreasonable risk of harm to its users. The lawsuit cites research that links anonymous harassment to teen suicide. According to a 2007 study, students who encounter bullying in real life or online are “twice as likely to attempt suicide.” A 2014 study found that cyberbullying could be even more dangerous and triple the risk for suicidal ideation.
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