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Bipartisan Coalition of Attorneys General File Lawsuits Against Meta for Harming Youth Mental Health Through Its Social Media Platforms
October 24, 2023
LANSING – Today, 42 attorneys general throughout the country, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, sued Meta in federal and state courts alleging that the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addicted children and teens. At the same time, Meta falsely assured the public that these features were safe and suitable for young users.
The attorneys general assert that Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These practices have harmed and continue to harm the physical and mental health of children and teens and have fueled what the U.S. Surgeon General has deemed a “youth mental health crisis,” which has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people.
“Meta has, for some time, been aware of the dangers that ongoing and constant exposure to social media has on young people,” Nessel said. “Documents recently made public show that Meta put its desire to profit from teens’ engagement on its platforms above the physical and mental health of that very impressionable demographic. I stand firmly with my colleagues in asserting that Meta has misrepresented the addictive nature of social media and has violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, for which it should be held accountable.”
The federal complaint, joined by 33 states and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, on young people. Instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, it misled the public about the dangers associated with the use of its platform, concealing the extent of the adverse psychological and health effects suffered by young users addicted to its platforms. The complaint further alleges that Meta knew that young users, including those under 13, were active on the platforms and knowingly collected data from these users without parental consent. It targeted these young users, noting, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, that such a user base was “valuable, but untapped.”
While much of the complaint relies on confidential material that is not yet available to the public, publicly available sources, including those previously released by former Meta employees, detail that Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to children and teens. Its platform algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” in an effort to maximize engagement. Features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users. These manipulative tactics continually lure children and teens back onto the platform. As Aza Raskin, the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, noted to the BBC about the feature’s addictive qualities: “If you don't give your brain time to catch up with your impulses . . . you just keep scrolling.”
Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users.
These choices, the complaint alleges, violate state consumer protection laws and COPPA. The federal complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms caused by these platforms.
In parallel complaints filed in state courts today, eight states have made similar allegations.
In addition to this action, AG Nessel has also participated in investigations into TikTok, Snap Chat, and a previous investigation into Meta. She has also voiced her continuing concern about Instagram launching a platform specifically designed for users under the age of 13. She has warned that social media fosters a comparison culture in which kids are repeatedly exposed to unrealistic beauty standards and hateful rhetoric. She has also vowed to continue to join efforts with her colleagues across the country aimed at protecting kids online.
These lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by Colorado Attorney General Philip J. Weiser and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. Nearly all the attorneys general in the country have worked together since 2021 to investigate Meta for providing and promoting its social media platforms to children and young adults while use is associated with injurious physical and mental health effects. While some states have pursued litigation in state court and others in collective federal action, the attorneys general will continue to work together as the litigation continues.
The multistate coalition that brought today’s complaint is also investigating TikTok’s conduct on a similar set of concerns. That investigation remains ongoing, and states have pushed for adequate disclosure of information and documents in litigation related to TikTok’s failure to provide adequate discovery in response to requests by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.
States joining the federal lawsuit are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Filing lawsuits in their own state courts are Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.