A massive lawsuit filed by 33 states accuses Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, of knowingly designing its platforms to be addictive and harmful to children’s mental health. The lawsuit alleges that Meta’s motives are purely profit-driven and that the company has misled the public about the dangers of its platforms.
According to a recent ABC News report, the allegations stem from internal research leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2021, which found that 13.5% of teen girls said Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse, and 17% said it exacerbates eating disorders. Despite being aware of these harms, Meta allegedly designed its platforms using manipulative features intended to maximize user engagement time, such as endless scrolling feeds and push notifications.
Crucially, the lawsuit claims that Meta routinely violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting data on users under age 13 without parental consent. COPPA requires parental consent for collecting data on children under 13, but the suit alleges Meta has workarounds that allow children to bypass the age requirement.
The legal action was led by a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general, indicating the breadth of concern around social media’s impact on youth mental health.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement, “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.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, “Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits. […] With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line.”
In response, Meta said it shares the attorneys general’s commitment to child safety and has introduced over 30 tools to support teens. However, it expressed disappointment that the attorney generals chose litigation over working collaboratively with the industry.
The lawsuit seeks financial restitution and asks the court to order Meta to cease practices that violate COPPA.
While other social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat have also faced scrutiny around youth mental health, this lawsuit currently focuses solely on Meta’s Instagram and Facebook.
With social media use nearly ubiquitous among U.S. teens, the lawsuit signifies a growing legal reckoning over tech’s responsibilities to its youngest users. “They’re the worst of the worst when it comes to using technology to addict teenagers to social media, all in the furtherance of putting profits over people,” said Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb.
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