Thirty-three states have banded together to sue Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, accusing it of building and operating platforms that have caused serious harm to young people and adolescents.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 24 in district court in Northern California, claims Meta’s platforms have “profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans,” harnessing “powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teams.”
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Arguing the company’s primary “motive is profit” and “maximiz[ing] financial gains,” the suit goes on to say Meta “repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers” of its various social media platforms, especially when it comes to “its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children.”
In a statement, a Meta spokesperson said, “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced more than 30 tools to support teens and their families. We’re disappointed that 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.”
Specifically, the lawsuit accused Meta of developing “psychologically manipulative” features for its platforms, which are “designed to maximize young users’ time spent” on them. These include, according to the suit, features like the “infinite scroll,” autoplay functions, alerts, the “quantification and display of ‘Likes,’” as well as “visual filter features known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia.”
On top of all that, the suit pointedly targets Meta’s “recommendation algorithms,” through which content is served to users. The suit says these algorithms encourage “compulsive social media use, which can allegedly cause “pervasive and often measurable harm.” (The suit does ostensibly offer some examples, though the following section in the current version of the lawsuit is one of many that’s been redacted.)
And through these algorithms, the suit also alleges, “Meta manipulates dopamine releases in its young users, inducing them to engage repeatedly with its Platforms — much like a gambler at a slot machine.”
Furthermore, the suit accuses Meta of “publishing misleading reports” about the effect its platforms and features have on users. It also claims that “despite overwhelming internal research, independent expert analysis, and publicly available data” showing that its platforms “harm young users,” Meta has not only declined to abode these features but “redoubled its efforts to misrepresent, conceal, and downplay the impact of those features on young users’ mental and physical health.”
The new lawsuit is the result of an extensive investigation conducted by a bipartisan mix of attorneys general from across the United States. The investigation appeared to be spurred by the 2021 Meta exposé by The Wall Street Journal, which centered around a trove of internal documents provided by a whistleblower. The “Facebook Files” reports covered everything from the allegedly damaging impact Meta’s platforms have on users’ mental health (especially young users), as well as other issues like government censorship and the spread of proliferation of misinformation.
With the lawsuit, the attorneys general are seeking financial penalties under state and local consumer protection laws. They’re also hoping the courts will issue an injunction that will force Meta to stop using some of these allegedly harmful features.
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