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Two tribal nations have filed a lawsuit accusing major social media companies of contributing to disproportionately high rates of suicide among Native American youth. 

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County court, names Meta Platforms (Facebook and Instagram), Snap Inc. (Snapchat), ByteDance (TikTok), and Alphabet (YouTube and Google) as defendants.

Chairperson Lonna Jackson-Street of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota emphasized the vulnerability of Native youth to the addictive features of social media platforms, citing historic teen suicide rates and mental health issues across Indian Country. 

“Given historic teen suicide and mental health issues on our Reservation and across Indian Country, Native youth are particularly vulnerable to the negative long-term effects resulting from the intentional, profit-driven design choices being made by these social media platforms,” Jackson-Street said in a statement

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Gena Kakkak, chairwoman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, echoed this sentiment, demanding accountability from social media corporations for creating features that exacerbate compulsive use among youth.

 “Enough is enough. Endless scrolling is rewiring our teenagers’ brains. We are demanding these social media corporations take responsibility for intentionally creating dangerous features that ramp up the compulsive use of social media by the youth on our Reservation,” Kakkak said in the statement. 

The lawsuit describes the defendants' actions as a deliberate effort causing long-term harm to the tribes and their members, diverting resources away from education, cultural preservation, and social programs.

In an Associated Press report on the lawsuits, Google and Snap Inc. responded to the allegations, emphasizing their commitment to providing safer and healthier experiences for young users. However, the companies are facing scrutiny over their platform designs and policies.

Native Americans experience higher rates of suicide compared to any other racial demographic in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mental health care accessibility is a challenge, compounded by historical colonization and social stigma.

The law firm Robins Kaplan LLP filed the first-of-its-kind lawsuit on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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