Meta 'intentionally manipulates' children to become addicted to social media, lawsuit claims

Meta 'intentionally manipulates' children to become addicted to social media, lawsuit claims

Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, is being sued by dozens of US states for deliberately making social media platforms addictive for children.

A total of 33 states, including California and New York, claim Meta Platforms Inc are contributing to the mental health crisis among young people by knowingly designing addictive features.

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

In addition, nine attorneys general are filing lawsuits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 41 as well as the US capital Washington DC.

The complaint said: "Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens.

"Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximise its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its social media platform.

"It has concealed the ways in which these platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children."

The suits seek financial damages and restitution and an end to Meta’s practices that are in violation of the law.

"Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health and social media companies like Meta are to blame,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement.

"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.”

In a statement, Meta said 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.”

“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,” the company added.

The lawsuit is the result of an investigation led by a coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Meta’s own research found that the company knew about the harms Instagram can cause teenagers — especially teenage girls — when it comes to mental health and body image issues, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2021.

One internal study cited 13.5 per cent of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17 per cent of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.

"Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

"With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line."

Almost all teens ages 13 to 17 in the US reported using a social media platform, with about a third saying they use social media "almost constantly," according to the Pew Research Center.

Social media companies ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms, but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.

The states’ complaint says Meta knowingly violated this law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, by collecting data on children without informing and getting permission from their parents.

Washington DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb wouldn’t comment on whether they’re also looking at TikTok or Snapchat. For now they’re focusing on the Meta empire of Facebook and Instagram, he said.

"They’re the worst of the worst when it comes to using technology to addict teenagers to social media, all in the furtherance of putting profits over people."