33 States Sue Meta for Targeting Vulnerable Children With ‘Addictive’ Features

Benjamin Kew
By Benjamin Kew
October 24, 2023Science & Tech

More than 30 U.S. states have joined a lawsuit against Instagram and its parent company Meta over claims that the company damaged the mental health of its younger users.

In a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California with the support of 33 bipartisan attorneys general, the complainants accused Meta, formerly known as Facebook, of deliberately implementing addictive features targeting younger children.

“Meta’s design choices and practices take advantage of and contribute to young users’ susceptibility to addiction,” the complaint reads. “They exploit psychological vulnerabilities of young users through the false promise that meaningful social connection lies in the next story, image, or video and that ignoring the next piece of social content could lead to social isolation.”

“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the complaint continues. “Its motive is profit.”

The lawsuit notes research showing a link between the use of their platforms and “depression, anxiety, insomnia, interference with education and daily life, and many other negative outcomes.”

The lawsuit also asserts that Meta breached various state-level consumer protection laws, as well as violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which forbids companies from gathering personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent.

“This is a tough time in America,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We have polarization the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil War. And so for all of the attorneys general from both parties, people who frequently disagree very vocally and very publicly, to all come together and to move in the same direction, I think that says something.”

Meta’s impact on the younger generation garnered significant attention after a 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal, which unveiled internal research leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. The research revealed that Instagram exacerbated body image concerns among certain adolescent girls.

“While Meta has publicly denied and downplayed these harmful effects, it cannot credibly plead ignorance,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a press release.

“Meta’s own internal research documents show its awareness that its products harm young users. Indeed, internal studies that Meta commissioned—and kept private until they were leaked by a whistleblower and publicly reported—reveal that Meta has known for years about these serious harms associated with young users’ time spent on its platforms.”

In addition to the federal case, eight additional attorneys general from across the United States filed individual lawsuits also accusing the company of failing younger users.

Meta said it was “disappointed” with the lawsuits, claiming the states should instead work “productively” with them to protect younger people.

“We share the attorneys generals’ commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” the company said in a statement.

“We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”

Meta is not alone in its potential legal woes. Both Google and ByteDance are already facing numerous lawsuits initiated on behalf of minors and educational institutions, citing the addictive nature of platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.

Should the lawsuit succeed, Meta may be subject to civil fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 per infringement of a multitude of state regulations.

It is not the first time that Meta has faced lawsuits concerning its manipulation of younger users. In March this year, the San Mateo County Board of Education filed a similar complaint, declaring that young people in America were facing their “most serious mental health crisis” of recent times.

“Powerful corporations who wield unmatched, highly concentrated technology in pursuit of profit are knowingly creating this unprecedented mental health crisis. YouTube, Snap, TikTok, Meta, and their related companies have carefully cultivated the crisis, which is a feature—not a bug—of their social media products,” the plaintiffs wrote.

“Even with only a small glimpse into what the YouTube, Meta, TikTok, and Snap companies know about this crisis, the public can now fairly conclude that the social media defendants’ conduct was no accident, but rather that defendants acted knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally.”

From The Epoch Times

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