41 states sue social media giant over damage to their youth

by WorldTribune Staff / 247 Real News October 24, 2023

Meta is being sued by 41 states and the District of Columbia for allegedly intentionally designing its Facebook and Instagram products with addictive features that harm young users.

“The lawsuits, in federal and state courts, say Meta misled the public about the dangers of its platforms for young people. The states also allege that Meta knowingly has marketed its products to users under the age of 13, who are barred from the platform by both Meta’s policies and federal law. The states are seeking to force Meta to change product features that they say pose dangers to young users,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The lawsuits follow a joint, multiyear investigation led by Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti of Tennessee and Democrat Philip Weiser of Colorado.

The state attorneys general cited as part of their evidence internal Meta documents made public by Frances Haugen, a former employee who took more than 20,000 screenshots of records about company research into its products’ potential harms.

“Among those records were hundreds of pages of internal research into teen users’ behavior, and Meta’s efforts to make its platform more alluring to them,” the Journal’s report noted. “Based on focus-group user experience work and surveys of hundreds of thousands of Instagram users, Meta’s researchers concluded that for most users social media likely didn’t pose significant risks. But for a substantial minority of teens with existing mental health vulnerabilities, they wrote, Instagram posed risks.”

“Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app but feel like they have to be present,” an Instagram research manager explained to colleagues, the Journal in 2021 cited one of the documents as saying. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”

According to Meta’s internal research, the problem was most pronounced among young women.

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers wrote in a summary of their work, according to the Journal article. Citing the platform’s “highlight reel” sensibilities and focus on users’ bodies, the researchers concluded that “comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

The Journal cited several people familiar with the states’ lawsuits as saying that the attorneys general weren’t making the argument that social media itself was inherently harmful. Instead, they said, the focus was on Meta’s use of its users’ behavioral data to garner maximum engagement from young users, despite internal research on its products potential harms.

The coalition of attorneys general have also been pursuing similar lines of inquiry regarding Meta’s social media competitors, with Tennessee and others currently seeking to compel TikTok to produce internal records related to teen mental health in court. It isn’t clear if those inquiries could lead to litigation.

A Meta spokesman said: “Since this investigation has begun, we have engaged in a meaningful dialogue with the attorneys general regarding the ways Meta already works to support young people on its platforms, and how Meta is continuously working to improve young peoples’ experiences. 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.”

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