The estate of a 16-year-old who died by suicide and the Tyler Clementi Foundation have filed a proposed class action in which they allege the makers of Snapchat and third-party add-ons YOLO and LMK have fallen short of their promises to address rampant cyberbullying among teens who use the messaging apps.
The 72-page lawsuit alleges that although defendants Snap, Inc.; Yolo Technologies, Inc.; and LMK maker LightSpace, Inc. have stated that they would, among other actions, reveal the identities of and ban users who engage in cyberbullying, implement and enforce zero-tolerance policies against bullying and harassment, and remove third-party apps that allow bullying, the companies have been “unable or unwilling to take action and carry out their promises to safeguard children.”
As a result, “millions of users are harmed daily” and suffer “permanent consequences” from harassing behavior that the companies “knew, or should have known” could arise from teens’ use of Snapchat and the YOLO and LMK “Snap Kits,” which allow users to send messages anonymously, the suit contends.
“This lawsuit demands that Defendants be held accountable for the wrongful deaths, personal injuries, and other losses that Carson Bride and his family have suffered as a result of Defendants’ defective and dangerously designed apps,” states the lawsuit, which was initially filed on May 10, 2021 in California’s Northern District and transferred on August 18 to the state’s Central District.
The crux of the proposed class action, the plaintiffs say, is not on the communications of users, nor on the punishment of those who send bullying and harassing messages, but on the inherent design and distribution of Snapchat, YOLO and LMK. The suit contends that anonymous messaging apps have been known for decades to cause “severe and fatal harm” to youths and that the defendants should have foreseen similar fallout from use of their apps, which are marketed to and used predominantly by teenagers. The app makers, however, continue to reap profits from “the same, defective, and inherently unsafe” designs, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, Carson Bride took his own life by hanging himself at his home on the morning of June 23, 2020. On or about July 4, the lawsuit states, it was revealed that Bride had been bullied via Snapchat, YOLO and LMK prior to his death.
According to the lawsuit, Bride had, from January to his death in June 2020, received 105 messages through YOLO (You Only Live Once), a kit that allows users to create question-and-answer content posts. The complaint states that among the 105 anonymous messages, “62 messages included content that was meant to humiliate him, often involving sexually explicit and disturbing content.” The suit says that the last web history from Bride’s phone from the morning of his death shows that he was painstakingly attempting to find out the identities of who was sending him the abusive messages through YOLO.
According to the lawsuit, YOLO has not responded to messages from Bride’s parents in the wake of their son’s death.
The suit goes on to state that Bride was also a user of LMK, a kit that allows users to create and customize stickers and backgrounds while sharing polls with their friends on Snapchat. With LMK, other users vote anonymously, and the user who posted a poll can share the results on Snapchat, the case says. In the run-up to Bride’s death, he received a number of sexually graphic and harassing LMK messages, according to the filing.
The case alleges LMK, like YOLO, has maintained, developed and distributed anonymous features that are inherently dangerous and present a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury and wrongful death to teen users. The makers of both apps have failed to take action to enforce their purported zero-tolerance cyberbullying policies, much less monitor and report those who engage in harassing behavior and bullying to law enforcement, the lawsuit alleges.
As far as Snapchat is concerned, the plaintiffs argue the app’s makers similarly knew of the dangers posed by anonymous messaging apps yet nevertheless allowed YOLO and LMK to have third-party access as Snap Kits. Although Snapchat’s guidelines purport that the company will remove third-party apps that contain unacceptable features or content, neither YOLO nor LMK – despite numerous reports of harassment, bullying and harm suffered by teenage users – have been axed as Snap Kits, according to the case.
“Upon information and belief, Carson relied on the misrepresentations of Snap Inc. that it reviewed, vetted, and approved third-party apps like YOLO and LMK, and that it would remove third-party apps from Snap Kit if they fail to comply with Snap’s Review Guidelines. These misrepresentations were material and resulted in the injury suffered by Carson and other consumers.”
The lawsuit looks to cover a proposed class of all U.S. residents between the ages of 13 and 17 who are or were registered Snapchat users between May 10, 2018 and the date of judgment in the lawsuit. The suit also looks to cover “subclasses” of YOLO and LMK users between the ages of 13 and 17 who are or were registered with either app between May 1, 2019 and the date of judgment in the case.
Get class action lawsuit news sent to your inbox – sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here.