A sweeping movement has emerged across the United States as 41 states and the District of Columbia join forces to sue Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, over allegations of “addictive” features that are causing harm to young users. This comes after a 2021 investigation pointed to the tech giant’s contribution to mental health issues among the younger generation. The 233-page lawsuit outlines claims of deceptive practices by Meta, suggesting that the company intentionally exploits young users for profit.
One significant aspect of the lawsuit revolves around violations of federal laws governing children’s privacy. State officials assert that Meta “knowingly” implemented changes to its platforms to keep children engaged, even though it allegedly had detrimental effects and violated consumer protection laws.
What is most striking about this lawsuit is the rare bipartisan consensus it has garnered, with both Democratic and Republican politicians uniting in their concerns over Meta’s practices. Maryland, Virginia, and 39 other states have filed this joint lawsuit, emphasizing the potential harm inflicted on the mental health of young individuals through addictive social media features. The District of Columbia has also initiated its lawsuit against Meta, demonstrating the widespread nationwide outcry over the issue.
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown stated, “Our country is facing a youth mental health crisis fueled by young people’s extensive and compulsive use of, and reliance on, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This has placed an entire generation of young people in jeopardy.” Brown draws a parallel to Big Tobacco’s practices in the past, suggesting that Meta prioritizes profits over public health and the well-being of children.
The lawsuit argues that Meta’s actions have violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, alleging that the company has employed powerful technologies to attract, engage, and trap youth and teenagers, all in the pursuit of profit. The filing asserts that “Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms”.
The National Institute of Health has reported a troubling increase in youth mental health issues in the United States, with a 25% rise in the percentage of children aged 3 to 17 experiencing anxiety or depression from 2016 to 2020. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares stated, “Virginia’s laws protect consumers from deceptive and misleading business practices,” and his office believes Meta has violated these laws. Miyares accused Meta of downplaying the serious risks associated with their platform.
Meta responded with a statement reiterating its commitment to providing safe online experiences for teens and families. The company highlighted over 30 tools it has introduced to support these efforts. However, Meta expressed disappointment that the attorneys general opted for litigation instead of collaborative industry-wide efforts to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for teen-oriented apps. In addition to the 41 states and D.C., eight other states have announced their intentions to file similar lawsuits, further intensifying the legal scrutiny on Meta.
This overarching lawsuit, filed by a bipartisan coalition of 33 state attorneys general in California’s federal court, expands its allegations to include Meta’s sharing of data about children under 13 without parental consent, potentially infringing federal privacy laws. The suit also contends that the company has exploited young users through algorithms designed to prolong their time on the platform, filters contributing to body dysmorphia, and content presented in an “infinite scroll” format that makes it challenging for children to disengage.
This lawsuit underscores the growing concern over the influence of technology companies on the well-being of the younger generation, setting the stage for a significant legal battle between state governments and Meta.
Derek Chan – Editor