Dozens of US states are suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, for allegedly fueling a youth mental health crisis. To the complaint 33 states are already participating and another nine are expected to join. Prosecutors point to the addictive nature of Mark Zuckerberg’s company’s social media.
“Meta has leveraged powerful and unprecedented technologies to attract, engage, and ultimately trap youth and adolescents,” says the complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court in Oakland, California. “His motivation is profit,” secures the document.
Meta, according to the states, has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its platforms. And, knowing the risks, it has also induced compulsive use of its drugs in children and adolescents.
The indictment is the result of a process that began in 2021. “Our bipartisan investigation has reached a solemn conclusion: “Meta has been harming our children and teenagers, cultivating addiction to increase corporate profits.”Rob Bonta, California Attorney General and one of the officials leading the effort, said in a statement.
The lawsuit also accuses Meta of violating federal laws protecting children’s privacy by collecting data from younger users. States are demanding various remedies, including substantial civil penalties.
Meta has confirmed several times that its platforms can be very harmful to teenagers. In September 2021, the Wall Street Journal published studies that the company had conducted on the impact of Instagram on its users. “We aggravate the body image problems of one in three adolescent women,” said one of the conclusions of the internal analyses, which the company had known since at least 2020.
The leaked reports, which Meta had decided to keep secret, gave an account of how Instagram generated depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Specifically, 13% of young British women consulted in the internal research recognized Instagram as the driving force behind their suicidal ideas. 6% of young women in the US said the same. The data was leaked by Frances Haugen, former Facebook product manager.
A few months before these internal reports became known, Mark Zuckerber had testified before the US Congress. “Using social networks to connect with other people can have mental health benefits,” said the CEO of Meta in March 2021 By then, the company was already aware of what these analyzes said.
But other research has been warning of the danger for much longer. The Pew Research Center in the US, for example, reported in 2018 that almost half of young people felt “overwhelmed” by social media. Instagram, in 2017, had already been recognized as the most toxic of all, by a study carried out by the Royal Society of Public Health and the University of Cambridge.
The US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has insisted throughout this year in his warning about the excessive use of social networks and the impact on children’s mental health. “13 years is too early” to use these platforms, Murthy said in February. This is the minimum age that Instagram and other networks require to register.
Meta said she was “disappointed” by prosecutors’ complaint. “We are disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, attorneys general have chosen this path,” said Liza Crenshaw, spokeswoman for the company, in a statement.
In recent years, Meta has implemented some measures to try to calm criticism. After the investigation of Wall Street Journal, For example, Meta paused its plans for a Instagram designed especially for children under 13 years old. According to the company, it was a way to solve the problem that some children lied about their age to register. It has also presented a battery of tools for parental control.
Meta and other social networks have already faced hundreds of lawsuits in the US for years, filed by families and school districts for the same reason. But the prosecutors’ action is the most important to date.
More than one billion people use Instagram around the world. Of the total, It is estimated that almost 40% are under 24 years old. The European Commission in June demanded that Zuckerberg “act immediately” to protect children on Instagram. But, in this case, it was referring to another investigation that revealed how Instagram algorithms promote networks of users linked to pedophilia.