the lawsuit starts in New York

During the pandemic from COVID-19 Many issues have emerged regarding the mental health of different groups of people. However, young people and in particular teenagers have suffered the brunt of social isolation and closures the most. However, new studies and a book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt have hypothesized that this crisis may have begun well before 2020.

In “The Anxious Generation”, Haidt points to smartphones and social networks in particular as the cause of the slow decline in people's mental health teenagers found in much of the world. A theory also supported by many parents in the American state of New York who have sued several technology companies precisely for the damage that social media would have caused to their children's mental health

The mental health crisis of young people in Italy

The mental health of young people and in particular of CEOsorlescenti suffered a slow decline in the decade between 2010 and 2020, and then collapsed very rapidly during the pandemic. Hospitalization figures for self-harm and suicidal thoughts have increased in several countries, even those that have a particular focus on mental health issues.

In Italy the problem starts a long time ago: “Between 2011 and 2021 we went from 155 to 1,824 emergency room visits per year for adolescents who needed support from a neuropsychiatrist. A decade of exponential growth in requests for help, so much so that even before Covid we had reached 1,059 emergency accesses per year” Stefano Vicari, director of Uoc Child Neuropsychiatry – Irccs Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital in Rome, said in an interview in March 2023.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been recording well +40% of accesses to our emergency room for young and very young people. But what is perhaps more relevant is that this percentage shows no signs of decreasing, on the contrary it is increasing, and that as many as 70% derives from suicide attempts or self-harm. There are 387 in the last year. An impressive picture also for us professionals, which confirms how Covid was only the indicator or the detonator of a discomfort among our children” concluded Vicari, and the situation has not been completely resolved in recent years.

Among young adolescents, those included in the age group between 14 and 19 years old, during the pandemic there was a collapse in the mental health index detected by Istat, which went from 73 to 70 in just one year and struggled to recover in the following two years. This data measures psychological distress, with a score ranging from 0 to 100 analyzing the main aspects of mental health: anxiety, depression, loss of control in behavior and emotions and psychological well-being.

These data are even more worrying when compared to public spending on mental healthcare. For young people aged 10 to 19, psychological health problems account for 16% of diagnoses. Before the pandemic, however, in 2019, less was dedicated to them 3% of the national health fund. The need for support from the healthcare system on these issues is also reflected by the speed with which the funds for the psychologist bonus have been exhausted in recent years.

The effects of smartphones on childhood

It's no better in the rest of the world. In Europe, calculate a survey of Blue Telephone, there would be 9 million adolescents suffering from various types of mental disorders. A situation resulting from a worsening prior to the pandemic. In England, the percentage of children hospitalized for self-harm or suicide attempts increased by around 50% between 2007 and 2016, according to National Health Service data.

Typically, the onset date of these problems is always around the end of the first decade of the new millennium. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that a substantial part of the responsibility for what has become a health crisis lies in the popularity of social media and smartphones. Haidt it does not ask for a total blocking of the platforms for minors of a certain age, as is happening in Florida, nor does it believe that phones in themselves have an inherent and intrinsic responsibility.

Instead, blame the parents' attitude towards the relationship between smartphones and children. Many couples have believed, wrongly according to Haidt, that it is safer to keep their children at home, in front of a screen but supervised, than to leave them free to explore social relationships through unsupervised play. This would have led to less independence in children and therefore greater fragility in adolescents in subsequent years.

The New York lawsuit against social media

The city of doesn't think so, at least in part New York, which sued companies that own social networks and various internet platforms for the damage caused to the mental health of their young users. The indictment alleges that big tech has: “knowingly designed, developed, produced, operated, promoted, distributed and marketed their platforms to attract and create addiction, with minimal parental supervision.”

An accusation in fact similar to those made in the past against other large sectors that sold addictive products, such as alcohol and especially tobacco. However, social media is also among the most profitable sectors ever. Advertising revenue in the US alone for ads aimed at under 18s only is 11 billion a year.

The New York City complaint involved Alphabet (owner of Google and Android and YouTube), Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp), Snap Inc. (the company behind the social network SnapChat) e ByteDance (the Chinese company that created TikTok). According to the accusation, they would have purposely used psychological research to create content and methods of use capable of causing addiction without taking any precautions for the possible effects that these would have had on minors.

Together, these companies bill more than 200 billion dollars every year and represent some of the most important companies not only in the tech world, but in general in the world economy, thanks above all to the high rate of diversification that they have managed to achieve over the years. The consequences of a conviction in this trial, however, are unpredictable, but a cultural change regarding the approach towards minors and social media seems already underway. The American State of Florida passed a law that prevents children under 14 from having an account on these platforms.