In a significant legal development, Meta Platforms Inc. is now at the center of a lawsuit filed by California and a coalition of more than 30 states.
The suit alleges that Meta’s social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook, are exploiting young users for profit while exposing them to harmful content. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California on Tuesday, adds to the growing scrutiny faced by social media giants regarding their treatment of their youngest users.
The lawsuit levels serious accusations against Meta, stating that the company has harnessed advanced technologies to lure, engage, and trap young people, particularly youths and teenagers. The central motivation, according to the lawsuit, is profit. Furthermore, it claims that Meta has consistently misled the public about the substantial dangers associated with its social media platforms.
In response to the lawsuit, Meta stated that it is committed to ensuring the safety of teenagers online and has introduced more than 30 tools designed to support young users and their families. The company expressed disappointment that the attorneys general of multiple states chose to pursue this legal path instead of collaborating with industry companies to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for the numerous apps used by teenagers.
Frances Haugen’s Impact
The issue of social media companies bearing responsibility for the potential harm their products cause to young people gained significant attention in late 2021 when former Meta employee Frances Haugen emerged as a whistleblower.
Haugen disclosed internal documents and made allegations about Meta knowingly targeting vulnerable young users to boost profits. She also revealed an internal Instagram study that highlighted the prevalence of depression and anxiety related to body image issues among adolescent girls. Haugen’s testimony to Congress is cited in the current lawsuit.
Meta is not alone in facing such legal challenges. Along with Snap, TikTok, and Google, it faces numerous lawsuits that claim these companies are responsible for causing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and sleeplessness among adolescents and young adults due to their social media addiction. These companies have also been the subject of complaints by school districts on behalf of students, alleging that their platforms have created a public nuisance.
Allegations of Downplaying Harm
The states’ lawsuit alleges that Meta continues to downplay the harmful effects of its social media platforms on young users, despite conducting internal studies revealing the serious harm associated with prolonged usage by children and teenagers.
Moreover, it claims that Meta collects personal information about users under the age limit, who have not provided the required parental consent. The company is accused of targeting these younger users with marketing schemes, including ad campaigns featuring actors who appear to be children using its platforms.
The lawsuit aims to secure a court order requiring Meta to cease the practices in question and to impose civil fines for each alleged violation of state and federal law. This lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions challenging social media platforms’ impact on young users, reflecting the growing concern about the influence of technology on young minds.
Legal Landscape and State Initiatives
State lawmakers are also taking action to address the issue. For instance, New York is considering legislation that would require companies to obtain proactive permission to allow kids to use their platforms during overnight hours.
Utah has introduced the nation’s first measures to verify the age of users and implement restrictions for minors under 18 on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. California’s governor recently signed a bill that increases legal liability for social media companies that allow child abuse to persist on their platforms.