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How an Ontario social media lawsuit is hitting home on the Prairies

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How an Ontario social media lawsuit is hitting home on the Prairies
As Ontario school boards are taking big social media giants to court, a Regina university professor says it's a problem that isn't too far from home. Moosa Imran has the story – Apr 2, 2024

As Ontario school boards are taking big social media giants to court, a Regina university professor says it’s a problem that isn’t too far from home.

Four Ontario school boards are joining together in a $4-billion lawsuit against major social media companies, alleging that their products have rewired how children think, behave and learn and that educators and schools have been left to “manage the fallout.”

University of Regina professor Alec Couros, who specializes in educational technology media, said there’s great validity to these concerns.

“Social media use overtime creates the environment for cyberbullying in particular,” said Couros. “It affects students’ mental health to a great degree and often quite negatively … hundreds of examples (of) teens who have been bullied online, who have taken their lives.

“These tools are designed to take away your attention. So how do you do a long read of Shakespeare? How do you spend time on calculus if you’re constantly bombarded by notifications?”

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Despite the negative effects, Couros said there are some positives to it as well.

“Some students who don’t have a sense of belonging can find belonging (in) spaces that they don’t feel … in school,” he said.

“There are kids that have been marginalized who are subjected to not being able to find themselves in their own schools and they can find online communities that connect.”

Payton Desjarlais, 15, who attends Regina’s Scott Police Academy, spends about eight to nine hours on social media a day. He scrolls videos on TikTok and socializes on Snapchat and said sometimes the experience can be negative, but also positive as well.

“There’s lots of things on the internet that’s bad for you. Like you’ll see like some really inappropriate things. But … sometimes it’s really positive for you. Like you can talk to people. Meet really nice people,” he said.

Creedance Caisse has a love-hate relationship with social media as she calls her connection with it ‘rocky.’

“Sometimes I really love social media, and sometimes I just want to get off social media,” Caisse said. “But without social media, I feel like I would be a very different person. Social media has also shaped me into a person where I can watch and learn what not to do and what to do.”

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Couros said the lawsuit between the Ontario schoolboards and social media companies is one part of a greater societal problem in which parents also play a role.

“We may let our kids run wild on the phones at home, but we expect them to be turned off at school. That’s not a fair challenge, either,” he said.

“That doesn’t happen in all households, of course, but I think we have to be very thoughtful that we can’t just take on these responsibilities. There are 24/7 responsibilities, and teachers aren’t watching your kid 24/7.”

Couros hopes to see better legislation around age requirements from social media companies as well as better parenting techniques and more responsible students.

— with files from Jacquelyn LeBel & Isaac Callan

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