On Tuesday, dozens of states in the US took legal action against Meta, the parent company of Instagram, alleging that the social media giant’s addictive features are detrimental to young users’ mental health. The lawsuit claims that the constant stream of news feeds and frequent notifications demand constant attention from users, resulting in potential harm.
“Legislation, lawsuits, and a call for accountability: Meta finds itself in hot water as states across the US take action.”
Details of the Lawsuit
Filed in California by 33 attorneys general, the lawsuit accuses Meta’s products of contributing to the mental health crisis among minors in the United States. As stated by Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, the company’s platforms have been intentionally designed with manipulative features that make children addicted while lowering their self-esteem.
Eight additional attorneys general filed similar lawsuits against Meta on the same day in various state courts nationwide. The state of Florida also filed a separate federal case, accusing Meta of misleading users about the potential health risks of its products.
COPPA Violations and Psychological Exploitation
The multistate federal lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Meta violated several state-based consumer protection statutes and the national children’s privacy law, COPPA. This law prohibits companies from collecting the personal information of children under 13 without a parent’s consent.
The complaint emphasizes that Meta’s design choices exploit the psychological vulnerabilities of young users with the false promise of meaningful social connection. It also states that ignoring the next piece of social content could lead to social isolation.
In response to these allegations, Meta expressed disappointment in the approach taken by the attorney general. The company is committed to providing teens with safe, positive online experiences and has already introduced over 30 tools to support them and their families.
A Wave of Legal Challenges
The wave of lawsuits results from a bipartisan, multistate investigation that dates back to 2021. The study was sparked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who came forward with a massive amount of internal company documents. These documents allegedly show that the company was aware of the negative impacts its products could have on young people’s mental health.
With these lawsuits, the states hope to stem the tide of tech platforms contributing to a rise in youth depression and suicidal ideation. They come after a slew of legislation in states such as Arkansas and Louisiana that aim to clamp down on social media by establishing new online platform requirements for teens and children.
Despite the tech industry’s attempts to challenge these laws, the states are confident that their legal action will succeed. They believe their suit targets Meta’s conduct rather than speech, thus avoiding potential First Amendment violations.
These lawsuits come just days before a federal judge in California is set to consider similar allegations against the broader tech industry. These allegations, brought forward by Google, Meta, Snap, and TikTok, involve nearly 200 complaints from private plaintiffs accusing the companies of addicting or harming their users.
The multistate suit could be merged with the consumers’ cases. Such a merger could lead to nationwide relief, involving coordinated action across the attorney general community.