Numerous US states, including California and New York, are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for intentionally and knowingly creating features on Facebook and Instagram that encourage young people to get addicted to social media sites, causing harm to children and contributing to the teenage mental health crisis.
According to a lawsuit filed by 33 states in federal court in California, Meta frequently gathers data on minors under the age of 13 without getting permission from their parents, which is against federal law. Nine attorneys general are also pursuing legal action in their states, increasing the total number of states and Washington, D.C. that are participating in this case to 41.
“Meta has used potent and unheard-of technology to attract, involve, and eventually ensnare young people. Profit is its only goal, and to increase its revenue, Meta has continually misled the public about the serious risks associated with using its social media platforms, according to the complaint. “It has hidden how these platforms take advantage of and control its most impressionable users: children and teenagers.”
The lawsuits demand monetary compensation, reparations, and an end to Meta’s illegal activities.
Attorney General of New York Letitia James said in a statement, “Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health, and social media companies like Meta are to blame.” “Meta has benefited from the suffering of children by purposefully including manipulative elements into its platforms, which cause children to become dependent on them and lose confidence in themselves.”
“The attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and having already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” according to a statement from Meta
The business continued, “We’re disappointed that the attorneys general have chosen this path instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use.”
An inquiry headed by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont resulted in an extensive federal lawsuit. It comes after scathing newspaper articles that were initially published in the fall of 2021 by The Wall Street Journal. These articles were based on Meta’s research, which revealed that the business was aware of the negative effects Instagram can have on teens’ mental health and body image, particularly for adolescent girls. According to an internal survey, 17. percent of teenage girls said Instagram exacerbates eating disorders, and 13.5% of teenage girls said it exacerbates suicidal thoughts.
Following the first reports, a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press, published their findings based on leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has testified before Congress and a British parliamentary committee about what she found.
“Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line.”
The use of social media among teens is nearly universal in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. Almost all teens ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. report using a social media platform, with about a third saying they use social media “almost constantly,” according to the Pew Research Center.
To comply with federal regulation, social media companies ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parent’s consent, and many younger kids have social media accounts. The states’ complaint says Meta knowingly violated this law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, by collecting data on children without informing and getting permission from their parents.
Other measures social platforms have taken to address concerns about children’s mental health are also easily circumvented. For instance, TikTok recently introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under 18. But once the limit is reached, minors can simply enter a passcode to keep watching. TikTok, Snapchat, and other social platforms that have also been blamed for contributing to the youth mental health crisis are not part of Tuesday’s lawsuit.
Attorney General Brian Schwalb of Washington, D.C., declined to comment when asked if they are also considering TikTok or Snapchat. According to him, their current focus is on Facebook and Instagram’s Meta empire.
To further the goal of prioritizing profits over people, “they’re the worst of the worst when it comes to using technology to addict teenagers to social media.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy urged parents, caregivers, and tech corporations to take “immediate action to protect kids now” from the negative effects of social media in May.