The attorney generals of 41 states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that the company intentionally designed its platforms with features that are harmful to young users. The lawsuit is based on evidence found in the “Facebook Files,” a collection of leaked internal company documents.
According to the lawsuit, Meta prioritizes maximizing engagement over the safety of young users. The company’s recommendation algorithms are said to encourage compulsive use, and disruptive design features interfere with young users’ education and sleep. The plaintiffs also claim that Meta has knowledge that its platform features are addictive and harmful, citing internal research that shows the platforms present mental health risks to a significant minority of young users. In fact, nearly one-third of teenage girls surveyed admitted that Instagram warped their perception of their bodies.
However, it is important to note that the science is still unclear when it comes to social media addiction. Academic researchers have struggled to prove actual addictive tendencies with these platforms. While last year, a British judge did rule that content promoted by Meta platforms played a role in a teenager’s suicide, proving harm has been a challenge.
The lawsuit also includes allegations that might be easier to prove. One claim is that Meta violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal data of users under the age of 13 without parental consent. Both Meta policies and federal law prohibit users under 13 from using the platforms without parental consent, but the lawsuit alleges that Meta has marketed and directed its platforms to children under 13 and has knowledge that those children use its platforms.
Central to the COPPA violation claims is the easily manipulated “enter your date of birth” prompt that allows tech-savvy kids to create an account on Instagram or Facebook. Other evidence includes a 2018 “guide” for parents that warns keeping kids off social media risks social marginalization, and that Meta permits advertising on its platforms featuring or directed toward children.
In conclusion, Meta is facing a significant lawsuit from 41 states and the District of Columbia, alleging harm to young users. The lawsuit includes allegations of intentional design to prioritize engagement over safety, the encouragement of compulsive use, and the violation of COPPA. It remains to be seen how the legal battle will unfold and what the consequences might be for Meta.
This lawsuit against Meta raises important questions about the responsibility of social media platforms towards their young users. While proving the harmful effects of social media can be challenging, the allegations made in this lawsuit suggest that Meta may have knowingly prioritized user engagement over the well-being of young users. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the regulation of social media platforms and their impact on mental health.