Meta Sued by 33 States Over Claims Youth Mental Health Endangered by Instagram – The attorneys general from numerous U.S. states have initiated a lawsuit against Instagram and its parent company, Meta. They allege that these companies have played a role in the mental health issues affecting young users by creating highly addictive social media platforms.
This legal action was filed in a federal court in Oakland, California, and asserts that Meta, which oversees Facebook as well, has consistently provided misleading information about the significant risks associated with its platforms. Moreover, they are accused of intentionally encouraging children and teenagers to engage in addictive and compulsive social media usage.
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“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” said the complaint, filed by 33 states including California and Illinois. “Its motive is profit.” The lawsuit claims that Meta actively strives to maximize the time young individuals spend on social media, despite being aware of the vulnerability of teenage brains to seeking approval in the form of likes on their content from other users.
The lawsuit also asserts that Meta has deceptively denied the harm associated with its social media platforms in public statements. Additionally, nine more states are anticipated to file similar lawsuits on Tuesday, bringing the total number of suing states to 42. The legal action is seeking various remedies, including substantial civil penalties.
This lawsuit is the most recent in a series of actions taken against social media companies, which have faced scrutiny in recent years for the significant power they have amassed with what critics argue is insufficient federal oversight. Carl Tobias, chair of the University of Richmond School of Law, said: “The main argument is that Meta deploys the entity’s user information to secure young users’ maximum engagement, even while Meta gathers internal research on the possible injuries that the company’s products inflict.”
In 2021, public awareness of the impact of social media on children’s mental health significantly increased, particularly after Frances Haugen, a former employee turned whistleblower, disclosed internal documents revealing that Instagram exacerbated body image issues in some teenage girls, and the company was aware of this. These revelations, referenced in the lawsuit, prompted a congressional hearing on the influence of social media on young individuals.
During his State of the Union address in February, President Joe Biden acknowledged the adverse effects of social media on the mental health of young users and called on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to address this issue. In May, the U.S. surgeon general issued an official advisory on the same concern. Meta and other social media companies are already facing numerous lawsuits representing children and school districts with similar allegations.
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Earlier this year, legal representatives for over 100 families submitted a master complaint, accusing social media companies like Meta, Snapchat, Google, and TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, of harming young people through their products. This case is ongoing, and the attorneys involved in that lawsuit have expressed support for the action taken by the U.S. attorneys general in a joint statement.
“This significant step underscores the undeniable urgency of addressing the impact of addictive and harmful social media platforms, a matter of paramount concern nationwide, as it continues to contribute to a pervasive mental health crisis among American youth,” they said. Meta said in a statement that it seeks to make teens safe online.