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Meta sued over claims Facebook, Instagram affect kids’ mental health

Meta sued

Thirty-three U.S. States have sued Mark Zuckerberg’s company, Meta, over claims that Instagram and Facebook have addictive components that affect the mental health of kid users.

In the joint lawsuit filed in a federal court in the Northern District of California on Tuesday, the 33 states alleged that Meta has “harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens.” They added that the company’s motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms.

They further allege that Meta has concealed the ways in which “these Platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children and it has ignored the sweeping damage these Platforms have caused to the mental and physical health of our nation’s youth.” The State officials also claim that the company knowingly deployed changes to keep kids on the site to the detriment of their well-being.

Meta’s business model faulted

Highlighting the flaws in the company’s business model as it relates to young users, the States in the 233-page lawsuit said:

  • “First, Meta’s business model is based on maximizing the time that young users spend on its Social Media Platforms. Meta targets young users and incentivizes its employees to develop ways to increase the time that young users spend on its Platforms. The more time young users spend on Instagram and Facebook, the more Meta earns by selling advertising targeted to those users.
  • “Second, consistent with this business model, Meta has developed and refined a set of psychologically manipulative Platform features designed to maximize young users’ time spent on its Social Media Platforms. Meta was aware that young users’ developing brains are particularly vulnerable to certain forms of manipulation, and it chose to exploit those vulnerabilities through targeted features such as: (a) dopamine-manipulating recommendation algorithms; (b) “Likes” and social comparison features known by Meta to harm young users; (c) audiovisual and haptic alerts that incessantly recall young users to Meta’s Social Media Platforms while at school and during the night; (d) visual filter features known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia; and (e) content-presentation formats, such as infinite scroll, designed to discourage young users’ attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s Platforms.
  • “In promoting and marketing these features to young users, Meta deceptively represented that the features were not manipulative; that its Social Media Platforms were not designed to promote young users’ prolonged and unhealthy engagement with social media; and that Meta had designed and maintained its Social Media Platforms to ensure safe experiences for young users. These representations, both express and implied, were false and misleading.

Meta reacts

Meta has, however, reacted to the lawsuit insisting that it has been doing everything possible to make young people safe online. Meta spokesperson Liza Crenshaw said in a statement that the company is “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.”

The lawsuit against Meta is the latest in a string of legal actions against social media companies on behalf of children and teens. ByteDance's TikTok and Google's YouTube are also the subjects of the hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of children and school districts about the addictiveness of social media.

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