Dozens of states, including California, Illinois, and New York, are suing social media giant Meta — which owns Facebook and Instagram — accusing the company of contributing to the nation’s worsening youth mental health crisis by building addictive features into the apps.
In a 233-page complaint filed in federal court on Oct. 24, a bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general argue that Meta “has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens.”
The company’s features state attorneys say are known to prey on young users’ vulnerabilities include:
- Algorithms that are designed to recommend content to keep users on the platform longer and encourage compulsive use
- “Likes” and social comparison features known by Meta to harm young users
- Incessant alerts meant to induce young users to return to Meta’s platforms constantly, even while at school and throughout the night
- Visual filter features known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia
- Content-presentation formats, such as “infinite scroll,” designed to discourage young users’ attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s products
The lawsuit adds:
Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its social media platforms. It has concealed the ways in which these platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children. And it has ignored the sweeping damage these platforms have caused to the mental and physical health of our nation’s youth. In doing so, Meta engaged in, and continues to engage in, deceptive and unlawful conduct in violation of state and federal law.
The suit was filed only a week after new data was published showing that social media usage among U.S. teens is the driving force behind declining mental health.
.@Meta is harming our children, and we refuse to tolerate it any longer. Today, NJ is co-leading dozens of states suing Meta in federal court to hold it accountable for deceptive business practices designed to cause kids to become addicted to social media. https://t.co/bOzNdVIFsd pic.twitter.com/DhvM65j4el
— Attorney General Matt Platkin (@NewJerseyOAG) October 24, 2023
Earlier in the year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory urging action to better protect children from the harms associated with social media.
“Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health and social media companies like Meta are to blame,” New York Attorney General Leticia James said in a statement addressing the lawsuit. “Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem. Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable. I am proud to join my fellow attorneys general to stop Meta’s harmful tactics and keep children safe online.”
In addition to the 33 states involved in the suit, nine other attorneys general are filing in their respective states, which will bring the total number of states taking action against the social media giant to 42.
A Meta spokesperson issued a statement expressing disappointment in the legal action undertaken by what will ultimately be nearly every state in the country.
“We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced more than 30 tools to support teens and their families,” the spokesperson said. “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.”