Editorial – Lead by example and ditch the lawsuits

In late-March, four Ontario school boards announced they had joined together to sue several social media companies for what they allege is creating a product that is purposely addictive to youth and disrupting how schools operate. The Toronto District, Peel District, Ottawa-Carleton District, and Toronto Catholic District School Boards are jointly suing Meta – which owns Facebook and Instagram, Snap Inc. – makers of Snapchat, and ByteDance Ltd. – makers of TikTok for $4.5 billion. Locally, the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario both confirmed to The Leader that they are not joining in on this lawsuit. Good, because this lawsuit frankly is a waste of time, money, and effort.

Education is expensive in Ontario, and publicly funded. School budgets are set in advance and essentially cover the expenses – barely. This suit is taking money from education and putting it towards expensive legal fees, fighting international software/internet companies with valuations that exceed the education budget of the entire province of Ontario. In other words, these companies can far outspend the four school boards in any legal costs. This action is great for generating headlines in the media, but offers no real prospect for change. The simple fact is, these and the other 72 school boards in Ontario already have the tools in place to combat the negative effects of social media – they just need to enforce the rules and lead by example.

In 2019, the Ministry of Education banned the use of cell phones by students in the classroom – unless a teacher allows it for learning purposes. Enforce those rules and go further. Unless for emergency contact availability, why do teachers need to use their phones in the classroom, or on the school yard during supervision time? Furthermore, if educators and administrators at these boards are concerned about the detrimental effects of social media platforms on students, why are those boards using said platforms to promote what goes on in their schools?

A quick look on the social media platforms that the four boards are suing show Facebook pages for many of the schools, Instagram and TikTok accounts to “connect with students” and board-wide accounts to promote their initiatives and try to attract students to enrol. Using those platforms to promote those boards while also suing them is the height of hypocrisy.

There are a number of research and clinical studies that have pointed to the harm that social media has on youth. We have seen a lot of anecdotal evidence related to those harms as well. There is a lot that can be done in schools to control, wean, and diminish those threats. Lead by example: clamp down on the use of social media by staff during work hours; stop using social media to promote schools and school boards; and focus on the job of educating students with the finite resources available. Doing this will be far more effective than wasting tax dollars on lawyers to garner headlines.

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