Lawsuit Alleges Social Media Companies Bear Responsibility for Teen’s Suicide After Online Sexual Blackmail

Scammers blackmailed the teen into giving explicit photos on Facebook, which they then used to blackmail him for $3,500, according to a recent lawsuit that blames social media for leading to his suicide.

As a growing number of families and young teens continue to file social media addiction lawsuits against Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other popular platforms, a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a 15-year-old New York teenager, indicating that the companies should be held responsible for a series of developments through their platforms that resulted in the teen’s suicide.

The complaint (PDF) was brought last week by Mary Rodee in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking damages on behalf of Riley Basford, who committed suicide after being “sextorted” through a predatory blackmail scheme while using Facebook.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail or coercion where a perpetrator threatens to release or distribute explicit or sensitive material of a victim, often obtained through hacking or manipulation, unless the victim meets their demands. These demands can include money, further sexual content, or other forms of compliance.

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According to the complaint, 15-year-old Riley Basford of New York took his own life on March 30, 2021, after being blackmailed by overseas scammers on Facebook who were posing as a teenage girl that supposedly lived in nearby Albany, New York.

In details reported by Spectrum News 1 in New York, the scammers from South Africa coerced Basford into sharing explicit and indecent photos, and then demanded he pay $3,500 or the scammers would share the private photos.

While the police investigation revealed Basford attempted to reason and come to terms with the Facebook scammers, he ultimately committed suicide when the scammers demanded additional funds.

The lawsuit identifies Meta Platforms, Inc., Facebook Operations, LLC, Instagram, Snap Inc., and several other social media service providers as defendants, accusing them of negligently and defectively designing their platforms in a manner that poses potential harm to young children.

Social Media Addiction Lawsuits

The complaints join a number of other social media addiction lawsuits brought against Meta and other internet companies, such as Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, YouTube LLC, Snap. Inc., TikTok Inc. and ByteDance Inc., each raising similar claims that the platforms are intentionally designed to manipulate and maximize user time and engagement, as well as the type of content they view.

The lawsuits claim these tactics cause addiction and self-destructive behavior among teens, resulting in anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychological damage that has led to attempted or actual suicides, especially among young girls.

Plaintiffs also argue that social media companies do not sufficiently monitor or moderate their platforms, and that the algorithms used by these platforms prioritize engagement over safety, potentially leading to children being exposed to harmful content or predatory individuals through recommended videos, posts, or user connections.

Each of the social media platform giants have been accused of ignoring clear evidence about the harmful consequences of their behavior, indicating that they have refused to do anything to prevent the addiction and emotional distress, since it would directly impact profits.

April 2024 Social Media Addiction Lawsuit Update

With dozens of social media addiction lawsuits filed against Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and SnapChat throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order in October 2022, forming the Social Media Adolescent Addiction Personal Injury Product Liability Litigation, where the claims have been assigned to U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the Northern District of California.

Since the consolidation was established, the JPML’s latest docket report indicates that there are now at least 439 lawsuits against social media platforms pending in the multidistrict litigation as of April 1, with the potential for thousands of claims to be added to the docket in the coming years.

As part of the pretrial management, the court is currently establishing a bellwether process, in which the parties will begin selecting the first social media addiction lawsuit in the multidistrict litigation to go before a jury sometime by late 2025.

While the outcome of any potential social medical addiction verdicts rendered by juries would not directly impact the hundreds of pending claims, the results will gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

However, if social media addiction settlements are not reached to resolve the claims during the MDL proceedings, each individual lawsuit may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a future trial.

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