The grieving parents of a 17-year-old boy who killed himself while battling a social media addiction have filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that blames the firms for driving their son to his death.
Chris and Donna Dawley, of Salem, Wisconsin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta, and Snapchat parent company, Snap, over their son, Christopher ‘CJ’ Dawley, who shot himself in the head in 2015.
The lawsuit was filed last week with the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal organization that represents parents of teens suffering from depression, sexual exploitation and self harm as a result of social media addiction.
‘For seven years, we were trying to figure out what happened,’ Donna told CNN Business about her son’s death, adding that she wanted to hold the social media companies accountable for how their products affect children.
‘How dare you put a product out there knowing that it was going to be addictive Who would ever do that?’
Chris (right) and Donna Dawley, of Salem, Wisconsin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat over their son’s 2015 suicide
The Dawley’s said Christopher ‘CJ’ Dawley, 17, (pictured) became dangerously addicted to the social media platform before he shot himself in the head while gripping his phone
The Dawleys said CJ would stay up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging people, swapping elicit photos. His mother said he became sleep deprived and obsessed with his body image
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta (left) and Snapchat parent company Snap. The Dawley’s filed the suit with the Social Media Victims Law Center, who is representing 20 other families in similar lawsuits against the social media firms
The Dawleys said CJ was only 14 when he first signed up for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, growing more and more addicted to the platform as the years went by.
According to the suit, CJ would stay up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging people, and even swapping nude photos with one another. She said he became sleep-deprived and obsessed with his body image.
Then on January 4, 2015, as the Dawley’s were removing the holiday decorations from their home, CJ went up to his room, messaged, ‘God’s speed’ to a friend and posted ‘Who turned out the light?’ on Facebook before shooting himself with a 22-caliber rifle.
His suicide note was found inside the envelope of a college acceptance letter.
‘When we found him, his phone was still on, still in his hand, with blood on it,’ Donna said. ‘He was so addicted to it that even his last moments of his life were about posting on social media.’
The Dawleys allege that the social media platforms ‘are not reasonably safe because they affirmatively direct minor users to harmful and exploitative content while failing to deploy feasible safeguards to protect vulnerable teens from such harmful exposures.’
Snap and Meta declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
Snap said in a statement that it emphasizes with those who have lost loved ones due to suicide, but added that it’s platform provides suicide prevention tools.
Its spokesperson also insisted the app was primarily designed to help people communicate with friends they already know.
‘We intentionally built Snapchat differently than traditional social media platforms to be a place for people to connect with their real friends and offer in-app mental health resources, including on suicide prevention for Snapchatters in need,’ Snap spokesperson Katie Derkits told CNN.
‘Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our community and we are constantly exploring additional ways we can support Snapchatters.’
CJ went up to his room, messaged, ‘God’s speed’ to a friend and posted ‘Who turned out the light?’ on Facebook before shooting himself with a 22-caliber rifle.
The Dawley’s said they want to hold the social media companies accountable for pushing their addictive platforms onto children
The Dawleys said their son was a regular teen until he became engrossed with social media, an addiction they said led to the mental health issues that caused his suicide in 2015
SMVLC attorney Matthew Bergman, who is representing the Dawleys along with 20 other families filing wrongful death lawsuits against social media companies, said the lawsuits are not about winning money, but about holding the tech giants responsible.
‘The only way to force [social media companies] to change their dangerous but highly profitable algorithms is to change their economic calculus by making them pay the true costs that their dangerous products have inflicted on families such as the Dawleys,’ Bergman told CNN.
‘When faced with similar instances of outrageous misconduct by product manufacturers, juries have awarded tens of millions of dollars in compensatory damages and imposed billion-dollar punitive damage awards. I have every reason to anticipate a jury, after fairly evaluating all the evidence, could render a similar judgment in this case.’
Donna added: ‘[This lawsuit] is not about winning or losing. We’re all losing right now. But if we can get them to change the algorithm for one child – if one child is saved – then it’s been worth it.’
The Dawleys said they were inspired to file the lawsuit after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s revealed hundreds of leaked documents and memos last year that showed the company was aware of Instagram’s negative effect on teens’ mental heath.
The files, which were published by the Wall Street Journal, revealed the company was aware of the problem since 2019, with Facebook’s own research showing that young users were going through mental health declines using Instagram.
One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 percent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.
The families were motivated to file the suits following last year’s leak by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who revealed Facebook was long-aware of Instagram’s damaging effects on teens’ mental health
Meta put a stop to its Instagram Kids app following reports that the social media platform was well aware of the harmful effects Instagram was having on teens
Nearly two dozen other families have filed lawsuits against social media companies over the alleged negative impacts their children have suffered from the platforms
Another slide, from a 2019 presentation, said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.
‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’
Another presentation found that among teens who felt suicidal, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users traced their suicidal feelings to Instagram.
The findings spurred parents who claimed their children have suffered due to the addictive nature of the social media platforms to sue the companies.
Brittney Doffing, of Oregon, filed a lawsuit with the SMVLC in January against Snap and Meta for allegedly turning her 14-year-old daughter into a violent cell phone addict who has developed an eating disorder and undergone multiple psychiatric admissions in the past couple of years.
Brittney Doffing says her daughter was a well-adjusted teenager until she caved and bought her a smartphone for her 14th birthday in March 2020. Doffing filed a lawsuit against Snap and Meta in January with the Social Media Victims Law Center
Brittney Doffing told KOIN her daughter was a well-adjusted teenager until she caved and bought her a smartphone for her 14th birthday in March 2020 so she could keep up with her friends during the pandemic.
‘Anytime I try to take the phone, she would get very physical, violent, verbal with me, with her sisters. She would smash the phones so that I couldn’t review the content.’
On the same day as Doffing’s lawsuit, another mother filed a wrongful death suit against Snap and Meta, accusing them of leading to her daughter’s suicide in July.
That lawsuit, also led by the SMVLC, alleges that 11-year-old Selena Rodriguez of Enfield, Connecticut was also addicted to social media and would run away from home to use it when her parents prevented her from accessing the sites, according to The Washington Post.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been quiet in the past about the issues the app is blamed for causing among young girls.
He told Congress in March 2021 that Instagram has ‘positive mental-health benefits’.
Instagram has a ‘parental guide’ which teaches parents how to monitor their kids’ accounts by enabling features like screen time limits and who can comment on posts, but there’s no way to verify someone’s age before they join the site.
Instagram claims it only accepts users aged 13 and over but says many lie about it when they join.
THE DATA FACEBOOK WAS SHOWN ON HOW INSTAGRAM HARMED YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS
Question of the things you’ve felt in the last month, did any of them start on Instagram? Select all that apply
Don’t have enough money
Don’t have enough friends
Down, sad or depressed
Wanted to kill themselves
Wanted to hurt themselves
Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel about yourself, your mental health?
US boys and girls: 3%
US boys: 2%
US girls: 3%
UK total: 2%
UK boys: 1%
UK girls: 2%
US total: 16%
US Boys 12%
US girls: 18%
UK total: 19%
UK boys: 13%
UK girls: 23%
US total: 41%
US boys: 37%
US girls: 43%
UK total: 46%
UK boys: 50%
UK girls: 44%
US total: 29%
US boys: 32%
US girls: 29%
UK total: 28%
UK boys: 31%
UK girls: 26%
US total: 12%
US boys: 18%
US girls 8%
UK total: 5%
UK boys: 5%
UK girls: 4%