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Anderson Co. Schools share how social media can impact its students (WBIR)

Posted Date: 03/25/2024

ANDERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — Leaders for an East Tennessee school district are explaining their decision to join a lawsuit against social media companies. 

Anderson County Schools is one of the dozens of Tennessee school systems involved in a lawsuit against social media companies. 

The United States Surgeon General warned that while social media provides benefits, it could also harm young people by causing mental health issues.

"When you're targeting, and you're using algorithms to target kids, and influence their behavior and to modify their behavior in a negative way, and you don't want to change that, then we're going to have to come to you and make you do," said Chris McCarty, the attorney who is representing Tennessee school districts

Ryan Sutton, the Director of Communications, said the goal of the lawsuit is to protect kids and to let people know what's happening on social media.

"We want to educate the public that this is a problem, and that the usage of this can be distracting to students, and that there needs to be some type of policing or stopping of this type of technologies usage for young students," said Sutton.

Sutton said social media can be a distraction in the learning environment and can have negative effects on the wellbeing of students.

"There can be positive things that come from that with their communications," said Sutton. "But there can be things like bullying and harassment too. That students could have that happened to them through social media, and things like that can lead to mental health problems."

He said the school district does have a policy where students can't have out their cell phones. The district also blocks many social media applications and websites.

"Of course, there are going to be those social media platforms that pop up weekly that aren't blocked immediately. But usually, once those are found, we block them fairly quickly," Sutton said.

Sutton adds, that most of the time students are using social media is going to be on their personal phones, but there are still rules they must follow when in school.

"Students are not allowed to have their personal devices out while in the classroom, which, you know, if they are then that's a disciplinary thing that administrators or the teachers would have to address," Sutton said. "Maybe they're gonna look at it at lunchtime, or in their free time or in the transition between classes, or I know, even some students say go to the restroom to look at their phones. So it's something that is somewhat hard to discipline and police. But we do our absolute best to keep that instruction time as distraction-free as possible."

Sutton said parents can also help monitor what their kids have access to on social media.

He said the biggest thing is to stay up to date on what's on their phones.

"There are a lot of online resources that are available to educate parents as to what's on their student's phones," Sutton said. "So if you see your student, you know, using a specific application, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, X, any of those, Instagram, you know, if you don't prefer to use it, have them take it off. But be aware of what they're doing, be aware of their online activity. Just be diligent with if you see something that looks strange, or you hear something that doesn't appear to be normal, you know, I would definitely address that with the student."

McCarty said right now 33 districts are signed on and other school districts in our state are still joining the lawsuit.