Meta Platforms and Youth Mental Health Crisis
Dozens of US states are suing Meta Platforms and its Instagram unit, accusing them of contributing to a youth mental health crisis through the addictive nature of their social media platforms. In a complaint filed in the Oakland, California, federal court on Tuesday, 33 states including California and Illinois said Meta, which also operates Facebook, has misled the public about the substantial dangers of its platforms and knowingly induced young children into addictive and compulsive social media use.
The complaint stated, “Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth. Its motive is profit.” The lawsuit seeks a variety of remedies, including substantial civil penalties. This Meta lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal actions against social media companies on behalf of children and teens.
In response, Meta mentioned that it had sought to make young people safe online. “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, the attorneys general have chosen this path,” Meta said. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta violated a law banning the collection of data of children under age 13.
- More than 40 states have taken legal actions against Meta, alleging that the company intentionally designed features that hooked a generation of young people. They accuse Meta of designing products that are deliberately addictive and fuel the youth mental health crisis.
- Some observers compare this litigation to the lawsuits of the 1990s against Big Tobacco, which imposed new limits on tobacco industry marketing.
- Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, expressed hopes that these suits would force Meta to enact similar changes. She mentioned that perhaps in the future, society might view young children on social media the same way they view smokers today.
- The authorities claim that Meta’s “dopamine-manipulating” features have harmed an entire generation’s mental health. They cite features like the recommendation algorithm on Instagram and Facebook, the ability to “like” posts, and unlimited scrolling.
- The lawsuits aim to have Meta’s design features deemed unlawful under state consumer protection laws, which could result in significant financial penalties. They also seek drastic changes to Facebook and Instagram to make them safer for young users.
- A past investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Meta was aware of the harm Instagram has on the mental health of many teens, especially teenage girls. Some developed harmful body-image issues after using the platform. In one internal finding, 32% of teen girls who felt bad about their bodies said using Instagram made them feel worse.