Dozens of states suing social media giant Meta

October 24, 2023

Thirty-three U.S. states and nine other attorneys general filed suit against Meta Platforms Inc., asserting it has harmed the mental health of children by knowingly designing addictive features on Instagram and Facebook.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in California. It further claims that Meta routinely collects data on children under 13 without their parents’ consent, a violation of federal law.

“Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem,” said Attorney General Letitia James of New York, one of the states involved in the lawsuit.

The legal action is the latest in a string of efforts by states to clamp down on social media, particularly where teenagers and children are concerned. And in May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called on social media companies to take “immediate action to protect kids now.”

In 2021, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal based on Meta’s own research found that the company knew about the harms Instagram can cause to teenagers, especially girls, regarding mental health and body image. One internal Meta study found that 13.5% of teen girls said Instagram made thoughts of suicide worse, and 17% said it worsened eating disorders, according to the Journal.

In a statement, Meta said that it shares “the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families.”

The company added that it was “disappointed” by the suit, and suggested that the states work with Meta “to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”

Pew Research has found that up to 95% of kids aged 13 to 17 use at least one social media platform, and more than a third said they were on social media “almost constantly.” 

Per federal law, kids under 13 are banned from using social media, though many get around the bans, with and without parental consent. 

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