A coalition of 41 US states, joined by the District of Columbia, have sued the social media corporation Meta for designing Instagram and Facebook in a “harmful and addictive” way for minors. This is the most significant legal action by state authorities to stop the impact of social networks on the mental health of minors, as well as to force Meta to modify these platforms due to the risks they pose for younger users.
In a joint virtual press conference, several attorneys general highlighted that addiction to these social networks is a “national problem.” They have stressed that despite the political division between Republicans and Democrats, they have been able to work together on this issue, which they compared to the fight against tobacco or opium.
Prosecutors hinted that they are working on a similar lawsuit against the Chinese social network TikTok, but did not provide further details. Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti noted that Instagram has targeted its application at teenagers and children, who “are more vulnerable and more susceptible to this type of manipulation.”
The mental health of young people
The barrage of lawsuits is rooted in a 2021 investigation into the various ways the tech titan contributes to mental health problems among young people. In 2021, revelations by Frances Haugen, a former employee of the company, exposed how Instagram worsened the perception of users – especially girls and teenagers – about their bodies, and noted that the company was aware of this problem. “(Meta) knew these mental health issues existed and that Instagram was making them worse. And instead of making changes, the company sought more and more participation from children,” Skrmetti noted. These accusations echo those that Haugen made before the US Senate in a public appearance.
For his part, Rob Bonta, California Attorney General, noted that the joint investigation “has discovered that Meta has deceived its users and is putting children in danger.” “There is a mountain of evidence that shows that if children spend more time on social networks that tends to correlate with depression, anxiety and body image problems,” said Bonta, who indicated that when Mark Zuckerberg, executive director of the company, he testified before Congress, lied when he said that Meta did not design its products to be addictive.
For her part, Meta spokesperson Nkechi Nneji said in a statement sent to the media that the technology giant wants to give teenagers a safe and positive online experience. “We are disappointed that the attorneys general have chosen this path instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards on the many apps that teens use,” Ella Nneji said.
Since the 2021 investigation came to light, some states such as Arkansas and Utah have passed laws banning children under 13 from accessing social media and requiring teens under 18 to obtain parental consent. to access the sites. For its part, California passed laws requiring technology companies to examine their platforms for possible risks and problems.
Meta, “disappointed” with the demand
“Since this investigation began, we have engaged in meaningful dialogue with attorneys general about the ways in which Meta already works to support young people on its platforms, and how Meta is continually working to improve the experiences of young people,” he stated. a Meta spokeswoman in a statement.
“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, attorneys general have chosen this path,” he continued.
In 2021, when Haugen’s revelations came to light, Meta (then still called Facebook) noted that they “give a false image of the company.” Regarding the former employee, sources from the corporation stated that “she did not have people under her supervision, she never attended decision-making meetings with senior executives and she has answered up to six times that she did not work directly on the issues that the employees asked her about.” senators.” “We do not agree with her description of the events,” they concluded.