A mother whose teenage son died by suicide is suing Meta Platforms Inc., owner of Facebook and Instagram, and Snap, Inc., owner of Snapchat, for the wrongful death of her son.
In a complaint filed last week, Donna Dawley of Kenosha, Wisconsin, alleged the social media companies deliberately designed their algorithms to addict people, particularly minors and children, to their platforms and to limit parents’ ability to monitor and protect their children online.
Christopher James Dawley, known as CJ to his friends and family, was 14 when he signed up for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Like many teenagers, he documented his life on those platforms.
CJ worked as a busboy at Texas Roadhouse in Kenosha. He loved playing golf and watching “Doctor Who” and was highly sought after by top-tier colleges.
“His counselor said he could get a free ride anywhere he wanted to go,” his mother told CNN Business.
During high school, CJ developed what his parents described as “an addiction to social media.”
By his senior year, “he couldn’t stop looking at his phone,” Dawley said.
“He often stayed up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging with others, sometimes swapping nude photos. He became sleep-deprived and obsessed with his body image,” she said.
According to his family’s lawsuit, CJ’s addiction spiraled until:
“On January 4, 2015, while his family was taking down their Christmas tree and decorations, CJ went to his room. He sent a text message to his best friend — ‘God’s speed’ — and posted an update to his Facebook page: ‘Who turned out the light?’
“CJ held a 22-caliber rifle in one hand, his smartphone in the other and fatally shot himself. He was 17… His parents said he never showed outward signs of depression or suicidal ideation.
“‘When we found him, his phone was still on, still in his hand, with blood on it,’ Donna Dawley said. ‘He was so addicted to it that even his last moments of his life were about posting on social media.’”