Dozens of states are suing Meta, the parent-company of Instagram, accusing the major tech company of harming young users’ mental health through addictive features, such as infinite news feeds and frequent notifications that demand users’ attention.
In a federal lawsuit filed in California from 33 attorneys general, dozens of states are alleging that Meta’s social media platforms have harmed minors and their mental health, contributing to the crisis throughout the nation through allegedly addictive features.
“Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem. Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable,” said Letitia James, the attorney general for New York, one of the states involved in the federal suit, according to CNN.
Eight additional attorneys general sued Meta this week in various state courts over the same allegations in the multi-state federal lawsuit. In a separate lawsuit, Florida is suing Meta over its alleged misleading of users about the potential health risks of its platforms and products.
The multistate federal suit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, and accuses Meta of “violating a range of state-based consumer protection statutes, as well as a federal children’s privacy law known as COPPA that prohibits companies from collecting the personal information of children under 13 without a parent’s consent,” according to Brian Fung of CNN and the official complaint.
“Meta’s design choices and practices take advantage of and contribute to young users’ susceptibility to addiction. They exploit psychological vulnerabilities through the false promise that meaningful social connection lies in the next story, image, or video and that ignoring the next piece of social content could lead to social isolation.”
In their own statement, Meta said: “We share the attorneys generals’ commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families.
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.”
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recently came forward with tens of thousands of internal company documents that showed how Meta allegedly knew that its services and products could negatively impact young users’ mental health.
“We know that there were decisions made, a series of decisions to make the product more and more addictive, and what we want is for the company to undo that, to make sure that they are not exploiting these vulnerabilities in children, that they are not doing all the little, sophisticated, tricky things that we might not pick up on that drive engagement higher and higher and higher that allowed them to keep taking more and more time and data from our young people,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti told reporters. California Attorney General Rob Bonta echoed these sentiments in his own statement.
“There’s a mountain of growing evidence that social media has a negative impact on our children, evidence that more time on social media tends to be correlated with depression with anxiety, body image issues, susceptibility to addiction and interference with daily life, including learning.”
States like Arkandad and Louisiana have already been cracking down on social media use through establishing new requirements for these online platforms that are used among young people. Some of these requirements include a mandate of parental consent for minors to create accounts on certain platforms while going through processes to verify their ages.
A lot of these new laws surrounding social media, however, are hard to enforce without a precedent, as tech companies are able to challenge them by claiming they’re a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.
A federal judge in California is set to consider a handful of allegations against the tech industry as a whole, along with Mets. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Roger is set to hear arguments from Google, Meta, Snap, and TikTok, where the tech giants will request that she dismiss the nearly 200 complaints against the platforms.
It is possible that Tuesday’s multistate suit could be merged with the consumers’ cases, the main difference of the multistate case is that it could lead to nationwide relief. The coordination that we bring across the AG community, we believe is invaluable to this,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The states involved in the federal suit include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Separate state court filings have also been made in Massachusetts, Mississippi, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.