Dozens of states in the US are suing Meta, claiming that its social media platforms intentionally addict young people and harm their mental health.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney generals, alleges that Meta is contributing to a youth mental health crisis by knowingly and deliberately designing features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children to its platforms.
“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California.
“Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its social media platforms.
“It has concealed the ways in which these platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children.”
The states also claim that research has linked children’s use of Meta’s social media platforms to “depression, anxiety, insomnia, interference with education and daily life, and many other negative outcomes”.
The lawsuit is a result of a nationwide investigation announced in 2021 by Robert Bonta, the attorney general of California, which examined how Meta was promoting Instagram to children and young adults “despite knowing that such use is associated with physical and mental health harms”.
The broad-ranging lawsuit also accuses Meta of knowingly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting data on children under 13 without informing and obtaining permission from their parents. This is despite the fact that social media companies prohibit under 13s from signing up to their platforms to comply with federal regulations.
Meta could face civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 for each violation of various state laws.
In addition to the 33 states involved in this lawsuit – including California and New York – nine other attorneys general are filing separate suits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 42.
New York Attorney General Letitia James stated, “Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health and social media companies like Meta are to blame.
“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.”
Meta responded with a statement saying that it shares “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”.
The company expressed disappointment that instead of working collaboratively with industry companies to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for the various apps used by teens, the attorneys general have chosen legal action.
According to the Pew Research Centre, almost all American teenagers use a social media platform, with approximately a third stating that they use social media “almost constantly”.
These cases are the latest in a series of legal actions against social media companies on behalf of children and teens.