Press Release

New Report Calls Out Social Media Platforms for Undermining Schools, Increasing Costs, Driving Youth Mental Health Crisis

AFT President: ‘Social Media Companies Must Act’

For Release:


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603

WASHINGTON—Today, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Psychological Association, Fairplay, ParentsTogether and Design It For Us called out social media platforms for undermining classroom learning, increasing costs for school systems and being a “root cause” of the nationwide youth mental health crisis. The groundbreaking report announced a series of recommendations and reforms that tech companies should take to keep American children safe and protect learning environments. 
“Likes vs. Learning: The Real Cost of Social Media for Schools,” released by the AFT and its partners, details how school districts across the country are experiencing significant burdens as they respond to tech’s predatory and prevalent influence in the classroom, and to the youth mental health crisis caused by the unregulated environment enjoyed by the tech companies that designed their platforms.

School districts have mustered significant resources to mitigate in-classroom disruptions and grapple with an increase in depression and suicidal ideation among students, dangerous and disruptive behavior, and bullying and harassment by and directed at students, as well as the popularity of dangerous viral challenges that originate from social media. Notably, the increased attention to tackling tech companies’ omnipresent role in children’s lives has pulled resources away from the core mission of education.
Specifically, educators recommended five guiding principles for social media companies to redesign their products to create better classroom environments and safer online spaces for children:

  1. Prioritize safety for children. 
  2. Protect students from overuse and addictive-like behavior. 
  3. Protect students’ privacy. 
  4. Protect students from risky algorithms. 
  5. Directly engage and work with schools and families.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, insists that social media companies have to act:
“We are glad to work with educators, students, families and medical professionals on this set of recommendations, but it is not enough for us to simply endorse these improvements. Social media companies must act to ensure their products are designed with our kids’ safety in mind and reflect the challenges kids face at home and in the classroom,” Weingarten said.
“Parents, caretakers and educators can do everything right—place internet time limits, restrict social media usage, have the difficult conversations—and yet the youth mental health crisis still rages on and children are still easily able to find the darkest corners of the internet,” said Ailen Arreaza, executive director of ParentsTogether. “Tech companies must take responsibility for the harm they do, and if they will not, our government should step in and require them to make these product changes in the interest of youth safety.” 

“Our schools shouldn't have to devote precious resources to cleaning up the mess caused by social media companies' reckless pursuit of profit,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay. “It is past time for tech companies to take responsibility for the harms they cause to young people's mental health and learning, and for Congress to require them to put children's interests first in the design and operation of their platforms.”
Nearly all researchers now agree that there are correlations between time spent using social media and mental health problems. In May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that social media brimmed with “extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content” that can “normalize” self-harm, eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, and that it had a “profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” Murthy called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits and to create default high-safety and privacy settings for children. 

Following on the surgeon general’s warning, the APA published a health advisory on social media use in adolescence and recommendations for youth, parents, caregivers, educators, policymakers, practitioners and members of the tech industry. Read the full list of guidelines here.

Additionally, a recent poll commissioned by ParentsTogether and Reset Tech and conducted by Hart Research reveals widespread public recognition of the dangers posed by social media platforms and support for government action to hold tech companies accountable for the harms their platforms cause young people. An overwhelming majority of voters (84 percent) believe that social media companies, the federal government (71 percent) and state governments (67 percent) should do more to ensure the safety of children and teens online. The poll shows that two-thirds of voters (67 percent)—including large majorities across party lines—and nearly three-quarters of parents (73 percent) consider it crucial for the government to address the impact of social media on young people.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.