A group of 33 states, including California and New York, are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harming the mental health of young people and causing the youth mental health crisis by knowingly designing features on Instagram and Facebook that make children dependent on their platforms make.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, also alleges that Meta routinely collects data from children under 13 without their parents’ consent, in violation of federal law.
“Children and teens are suffering from record levels of poor mental health, and social media companies like Meta are to blame,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Meta has profited from the suffering of children by intentionally equipping its platforms with manipulative features that make children dependent on their platforms while weakening their self-esteem.”
The wide-ranging lawsuit is the result of an investigation led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont. It follows damning newspaper reports, first from the Wall Street Journal in fall 2021, based on Meta’s own research that found the company knew about the harm Instagram can do to teenagers – especially teenage girls – when it comes to mental health Health and the body involves image problems. In an internal study, 13.5% of teenage girls said Instagram worsened suicidal thoughts, and 17% of teenage girls said it worsened eating disorders.
A Meta spokesperson sent the following statement:
“We share the Attorney General’s commitment to providing teens with safe and positive online experiences and have already launched over 30 tools to support teens and their families. “We are disappointed that we are not working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, safe experiences.” “Appropriate standards for the many apps that teens use is why state attorneys general have chosen this path.”
After the initial reports, a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press, released their own findings based on leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who testified about her findings before Congress and a British parliamentary committee.
Social media use among teenagers is nearly universal in the United States and many other parts of the world. Up to 95% of teens ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly,” according to the Pew Research Center .
To comply with federal regulations, social media companies prohibit children under 13 from logging onto their platforms. However, it has been shown that children can easily circumvent the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent, and many younger children have social media accounts.
Other measures that social platforms have taken to address concerns about children’s mental health can also be easily circumvented. For example, TikTok recently introduced a default time limit of 60 minutes for users under 18. However, once the limit is reached, minors can simply enter a passcode to continue watching.
In May, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called on technology companies, parents and carers to “take immediate action to protect children now” from the harms of social media.