Prosecutors from 41 states and the District of Columbia have filed lawsuits against Meta. The lawsuits are the culmination of an investigation opened in 2021, the same one that investigated various features of Facebook and Instagram that are inducing children and teenagers into addictive social media use.
It all started with an investigation in Massachusetts, after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Meta (at the time – Facebook) knew Instagram was toxic to teenage girls. The social network claimed at the time that there was no evidence to prove this. However, the investigation showed that Instagram can contribute to depression, anxiety and insomnia in children. The lawsuits have the support of both major parties in the United States.
The lawsuit accuses Meta of designing Facebook and Instagram in such a way that can keep younger users glued to the phone for longer periods of time and to keep them coming back for more. Despite the company knowing the harmful impact on children, it continued adding addictive and troublesome features to keep them on their platforms.
The lawsuits will be divided into several areas. Prosecutors from 33 states filed their lawsuits in the Northern District Court of California. Nine prosecutors filed the lawsuits in their states. Washington, Wisconsin, South Carolina, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska and New York filed the lawsuits in their courts.
This is the biggest effort yet to force social networks to promptly assess and remove risks to children.
“This is not an action we take lightly,” Colorado AG Phil Weiser said at the press conference. “This is not a case that we know is going to be decided very quickly. But it’s of the utmost importance. That’s why we dedicated level resources of the state agencies brought together here addressing issues that are top of our national agenda.”
According to the lawsuit, Meta is knowingly designing algorithms, notifications, infinite scroll functionalities to trick kids into staying on the platforms. The company integrated features such as “likes” or photo filters that prosecutors say they have evidence of negatively affecting teens’ mental health through social comparison or promoting body dysmorphia.
Additionally, according to the allegations, Meta collected data on children under the age of 13. By doing so, the company violated the legal obligations of the Law on the Protection of Children’s Privacy on the Internet.
Meta says they are disappointed by this move by the prosecutors. A company representative told Reuters that prosecutors were able to talk to various companies about creating clear standards for apps used by teenagers. Instead, prosecutors opted for a lawsuit. The social network added that the results of various researches are contradictory, and do not show that social networks by themselves are useful or harmful for young people.
Prosecutors said Meta was not the company to act responsibly unless forced to do so.
“It should have been the practice of Meta to alert people that they were dealing with a dangerous, potentially addictive product before they started using it,” District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb told CNBC in a phone interview.