The parents of a 17-year-old boy who killed himself in 2015 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The lawsuit claims that social media companies knowingly get children hooked on their platforms – even though the companies know it will lead to some committing suicide. Unfortunately, this young man is not the only such case, and other parents are also suing social media companies.
Chris and Donna Dawley, of Salem, Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit earlier this month with the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC). SMVLC describes itself as working “to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harms they inflict on vulnerable users.” The Dawleys turned to SMVLC after seven years of “trying to figure out what happened” to their son, Christopher James “CJ” Dawley.
In 2012, Barack Obama was president, Marvel’s The Avengers was released in theaters, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic Ocean and the East Coast of the United States, the Mayan calendar ran out, and CJ was 14 years old. He did what a lot of kids his age did: he signed up for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. And – like many of his peers – he used these social media platforms as a kind of “diary” to document his daily life for friends and strangers.
CJ’s parents described it in an interview with CNN Business:
CJ worked as a busboy at Texas Roadhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He loved to golf, watch “Doctor Who” and was highly sought after by top colleges. “His adviser said he could get a free ride anywhere he wanted to go,” his mother Donna Dawley told CNN Business during a recent interview at the family’s home.
A young man from a loving family who hoped for a promising academic career would be expected to succeed and live a fulfilling life with his own children. But CJ’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. His parents say that throughout high school he developed an increasing addiction to social media, spending hours each day posting and reading other people’s posts. His mother told CNN that in his senior year, “he couldn’t stop looking at his phone” and would often stay up until 3 a.m. to get his social media fix. CNN also reported that on Instagram and other platforms, he began swapping nude photos. He became sleep deprived and obsessed with his body image.
His sleep deprivation and obsession with body image led to darker issues. Right after his 17th Christmas, as his family took down their Christmas tree, CJ went to his bedroom, texted his best friend “God’s Speed” and posted, “Who turned off the light?” to his Facebook profile. Then, still holding the phone he never seemed to be able to hang up, he shot himself with a .22 rifle. As CNN reported:
Police found a suicide note…