Dozens of US state attorney generals are suing Meta Platforms for allegedly using addictive features that they claim are fuelling a mental health crisis among children and young people.
In a complaint filed by the 33 states in a California federal court on Monday, the states have accused Meta of consistently misleading the public about the use of its platforms, which include Instagram and Facebook. They claim it didn’t adequately warn the public of the dangers of its allegedly addictive technology, which the lawsuit alleges Meta did knowingly.
“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the complaint said, per SBS News.
“Its motive is profit.”
The states allege Meta actively tries to make sure young people spend as much time as possible on its platforms by using features it knows to be addictive, despite knowing the harms this has on the brains of teens and children. It notes that Meta publicly denied its social media platforms are harmful, which it alleges was done deceptively.
“Meta did not disclose that its algorithms were designed to capitalise on young users’ dopamine responses and create an addictive cycle of engagement,” it said.
The lawsuit states research has associated young children’s use of Meta platforms with “depression, anxiety, insomnia, interference with education and daily life, and many other negative outcomes”.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta accused Meta of “cultivating addiction” in children and teens “to boost corporate profits,” per SBS News.
The lawsuit also mentions the findings of former Meta employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, who shared internal documents in 2021 which revealed Instagram worsened the body image of some teen girls, and that the company was aware of this.
On Tuesday, eight more states also filed similar lawsuit, which means there are now 42 states out of 50 that are suing the company.
“The main argument is that Meta deploys the entity’s user information to secure young users’ maximum engagement, even while Meta gathers internal research on the possible injuries that the company’s products inflict,” Carl Tobias, Chair of the University of Richmond School of Law, told The Guardian.
Meta, for its part, said it was “disappointed” about the lawsuits.
“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 company said, per SBS News.
These lawsuits are just the latest of many against social media companies who have platforms used by children.
Earlier this year, lawyers representing more than 100 families filed a complaint against social media giants Meta, Snapchat, ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) and Google. They alleged the companies’ products were harming young people, and this case is actually still ongoing.