On Tuesday, more than 40 U.S. states launched a joint lawsuit against Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging deceptive and unlawful conduct harming vulnerable youth for financial gain. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, claims that Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its social media platforms, prompting a nationwide outcry over the impact of social media on the mental health of children and teenagers.
Business Model at the Expense of Youth
The legal filing argues that Meta has exploited young users by creating a business model designed to maximize the time they spend on their platforms, even when it is to the detriment of their mental and emotional well-being. New York Attorney General Letitia James stated, “Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health, and social media companies like Meta are to blame.” She added, “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.”
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Call for Accountability
The lawsuit seeks to hold Meta accountable for its actions. It urges the federal court to order Meta to stop using manipulative tactics and pay hefty financial penalties, along with providing restitution to those affected. Attorney General Letitia James emphasized, “Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis, and they must be held accountable.”
Several states have already passed laws that require social media companies to obtain parental permission before allowing minors to use their platforms. These legal actions underscore the growing concerns about the impact of social media on young minds and the need for regulatory measures to protect vulnerable users.
Meta’s Response and the Broader Context
In response to the lawsuit, Meta expressed its disappointment and argued that the states were not working collaboratively with a broader range of social media companies to create age-appropriate standards. The company maintained that it has developed over 30 tools in its apps to support teenage users and made efforts to make it easier for parents to shape their children’s online activity.
The Silicon Valley tech firm also highlighted that it is disappointing that attorneys general have singled out Meta when other social media platforms, such as TikTok, YouTube, and Snap, are equally popular among young users. Meta emphasized that social media can be a place where young people struggling with various issues in their lives seek support and community.
Genesis of Legal Complaints
The legal complaints against Meta stem from a nationwide investigation initiated in November 2021, led by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. This investigation was set in motion after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked more than 20,000 pages of internal documents to the media. These revelations ignited criticism that the social media giant had prioritized profit over the safety and well-being of its users.
During her testimonies before American and European lawmakers in 2021, Haugen insisted that Facebook had failed to effectively curtail toxic content, casting doubt on the company’s ability to change its ways. In response to these allegations and to distance itself from social networking controversies, Facebook rebranded as Meta later that year.
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Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, defended the company, asserting that the notion of deliberately promoting content that incites anger for profit is illogical. Nevertheless, the legal action taken by more than 40 U.S. states suggests that the controversy surrounding the impact of social media on young people’s mental health is far from resolved and that Meta must now face the legal consequences of its alleged actions.