41 U.S. states, including powerhouses like California and New York, have filed lawsuits against Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. The lawsuits accuse Meta of knowingly designing addictive features that have contributed to a youth mental health crisis in America.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, is spearheaded by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from states such as California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. The complaint alleges that Meta has “harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens.” The motive behind these actions, according to the lawsuit, is profit. Meta is accused of misleading the public about the substantial dangers of its platforms and exploiting its most vulnerable users — children and teenagers.
The lawsuit also accuses Meta of violating federal children’s privacy laws by collecting data from underage users. This adds another layer to the already complex legal landscape that Meta finds itself navigating. The states involved in the lawsuit are demanding various remedies, including substantial civil penalties.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a series of damning reports, including those published by The Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2021. These reports were based on Meta’s own internal research, revealing that the company was fully aware of the harmful effects its platforms could have, especially on teenage girls.
The internal reports, leaked by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, indicated that Instagram was a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for a significant number of its users. Specifically, 13% of young British women and 6% of young American women cited Instagram as a driving force behind their suicidal ideation.
In a statement, Meta spokesperson Liza Crenshaw expressed disappointment over the lawsuit, suggesting that the attorneys general should have collaborated with the industry to establish age-appropriate standards. Despite this, Meta has taken some steps to mitigate criticism, such as pausing plans for an Instagram app for children under 13 and introducing parental control tools.
However, these measures seem to be a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the problem. With nearly 40% of Instagram’s one billion users being under the age of 24, the issue is far from resolved.
According to the Pew Research Center, almost all teens aged 13 to 17 in the U.S. report using a social media platform, with about a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.” This universal usage underscores the urgency of addressing the mental health implications of social media use among teens.