Meta is facing state-led lawsuits over allegations of knowingly designing and deploying features on its platforms that harmed young users’ mental health.
A bipartisan coalition of 32 bipartisan attorneys general, including Idaho Republican Raúl Labrador, filed a complaint Tuesday in the Northern District of California alleging Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, used deceptive and unlawful conduct in creating platforms they say are “directly contributing” to the youth mental health crisis.
“Today’s lawsuit alleges that Meta knew children used its platforms and the company knowingly collected data from them without parental consent,” Labrador said in a news release.
The District of Columbia and eight other states filed lawsuits in their own state courts, according to the New York state attorney general’s office announcement.
“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,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat who is leading the joint lawsuit, said in a statement. “Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable.”
The complaint alleges Meta created addictive services for young users and then deployed “harmful and psychologically manipulative product features” into the products.
Features the complaint calls out as harmful include “dopamine-manipulating recommendation algorithms,” “likes” on posts, visual filter features “known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia,” and “infinite scroll” features that are “designed to discourage young users’ attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s platforms.”
The states allege that Meta has “continued to deny and downplay” research about links between its platforms and psychological and physical harm, and instead published “misleading reports boasting a deceptively low incidents of user harm.”
The states’ lawsuit also alleges Meta violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by collecting personal data of teen users without parents’ consent.
A Meta spokesperson said in a statement, “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,” the spokesperson added.
The lawsuits follow mounting scrutiny over how Meta impacts teen users, building since Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen stepped forward in 2021 with leaked internal documents, first published by The Wall Street Journal. Among them was internal research about Instagram’s impact on teens.
The multistate coalition is also investigating TikTok for similar conduct, Labrador said.
The Idaho Statesman contributed. Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. | All Rights Reserved. Read more from The Hill at thehill.com