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Ottawa Catholic School Board joins $7.1-billion lawsuit against social media giants

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The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) and six other boards across Ontario are joining a lawsuit against tech giants like Meta, Snapchat and TikTok, accusing them of "disrupting student learning and the education system."

Four school boards in the province, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, announced in March that they would be pursuing legal action against the tech giants in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit targeting social media and its impact on kids in the classroom.

On Wednesday, seven more schools joined that case, including the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB), Trillium Lakeland District School Board (TLDSB), Ottawa Catholic District School Board (OCSB), District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) and private schools Holy Name of Mary College School and Eitz Chaim.

The boards claim their legal action is targeting the "addictive properties" of social media on kids that have forced them to divert "significant resources" including, personnel, hours and funds. The announcement brings the total number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to eleven, coming from a wide range of rural and urban, private and public school boards.

The boards were initially seeking $4.5 billion in damages, but the additional of the new boards Wednesday upped the total to $7.1 billion.

"The lawsuits filed by these boards and schools claim social media products, intentionally designed for compulsive use, have rewired the way children think, behave, and learn and educators within these boards/schools have been left to manage the fallout," a press release on Wednesday said.

"The addictive properties of the products designed by social media giants have compromised all students' ability to learn, disrupted classrooms and created a student population that suffers from increasing mental health harms."

The boards have retained Neinstein LLP, a Toronto-based litigation firm, to represent them. The legal action has been launched against Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc. and ByteDance Ltd.

"Our commitment to student-focused education drives our innovative practices at the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. We believe in equipping our students with the tools for the future, and our approach to Deep Learning reflects this philosophy," said Thomas D'Amico, the director of education for the OCSB in Wednesday's news release.

"However, we recognize that social media products can impede our students' focus and hinder the development of key global competencies. That's why we are committed to advocating for safer social media environments for our students."

The Centre for Addition and Mental Health (CAMH) has found that approximately 91 per cent of Ontario students in grades 7 through 12 use social media daily. 31 per cent of students use social media for five hours or more everyday.

A TikTok spokesperson said in March that it has introduced safeguards such as parental controls, an automatic 60-minute screen time limit for users under 18 and age-restriction features.

"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 statement said.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The Ontario government announced last month a suite of measures to crack down on cell phones and social media use in schools. Students between Grade 7 and 12 will be banned from using their phones during class time, while students in kindergarden to Grade 6 will be asked to keep their phones on silent for the entire school day.

Social media sites will be banned from all school networks and devices. 

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