A reported 42 states are suing Meta, Facebook’s parent company, alleging the company is “targeting children” with “addictive” features.
The addictive nature of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, owned by Meta Platforms Inc., has prompted a bipartisan group of attorneys general from 33 states to file a federal lawsuit against the tech giant. Nine other attorneys have jumped on board with the lawsuit, filing on behalf of parents in their respective states.
The lawsuit accuses Meta of engaging in business practices that negatively impact children’s mental health. They argue that Meta knowingly developed and deployed addictive features on its platforms, Facebook and Instagram.
The lawsuit accuses Meta of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) since it collects personal information from children under the age of 13. Facebook and Instagram do not obtain parental consent.
Meta is accused of using algorithms to recommend content in hopes of keeping young people logged on for extended periods of time and constantly coming back for more. Anyone with a teenager who doesn’t want to wake up for school after a rousing night on their phone far past bedtime may understand.
The lawsuit also claims that Meta uses features such as “likes” and social comparison tools that harm young users’ self-esteem. Do they really need more reasons to compare themselves to other people on the Internet?
Meta allegedly uses constant alerts and notifications to lure young users back to the screen around the clock. This tactic seeks to give rise to FOMO (fear of missing out) and encourages kids to remain engaged, even during school hours and late at night.
Instagrams’ visual filters are claimed to promote body dysmorphia among young users. These filters can distort a person’s perception of their appearance, leading to negative self-image and potential mental health repercussions.
The lawsuit alleges that some features, such as the infamous “infinite scroll,” hinder children and teens’ ability to self-regulate their time spent online.
A spokesperson for Meta responded to the lawsuit noting, “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families.”
He continued, “We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”
The attorneys general assert that Meta’s platforms — along with other social media companies — have contributed to a nationwide mental health crisis in children. The negative impact on young users’ mental well-being is a growing concern, with studies linking excessive social media use to increased rates of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances among adolescents.
Is it all conjecture? Whistleblower Frances Haugen has already revealed the company’s awareness of the negative effects Instagram has on teenagers, particularly young girls.
Our whistleblower Frances Haugen kicked off an avalanche of scrutiny of FB's products and their negative impact on kids and teens. That scrutiny is growing every year, and these 41 lawsuits nationwide are a watershed moment for platform accountability.https://t.co/u2jgus644d
— Whistleblower Aid (@wbaidlaw) October 25, 2023
In light of the lawsuit being filed, some people are questioning whether this responsibility lies with social media platforms — or at home.
https://t.co/USFyRsCguz I’m not a fan of ZUCKERBERG, but where are the parents on this issue? Government control of social media for all could be the result of these lawsuits. Parents are responsible for what their children access, not the government.
— Dorothy Prater Niemi (@PraterNiemi) October 25, 2023
The lawsuit against Meta is stupid. It’s a group of Attorneys General who don’t want to tell parents to actually be parents so will blame big tech for not parenting someone else’s kids.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) October 25, 2023
It’s possible that avoiding social media entirely is not only impractical but unsafe for the average parent who aims to teach their children how to use social media safely while they’re still under their roof.
#BREAKING Every parent knows that Facebook and Instagram are addictive for youth. Parents are trying, but they’re up against a social media giant that’s exploiting the most addictive features. Today I’m taking Meta to court to protect youth in a bipartisan lawsuit.
— Bob Ferguson (@BobFergusonAG) October 24, 2023
The coalition is seeking injunctive relief as a means of producing a change in practice from within Meta. It is also seeking civil penalties, restitution and damages.
The attorneys general hope to set a precedent that encourages the tech and social media industry to prioritize the well-being of young users and establish clearer guidelines for age-appropriate online experiences.
The lawsuits against Meta are part of a broader investigation into the impact of social media platforms on youth mental health. Attorneys general from several states, including California and New York, are also investigating TikTok for similar concerns.