By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, California, and New York have joined 36 other states in a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company overseeing social media behemoths Facebook and Instagram. The lawsuit alleges that Meta has been intentionally targeting children with addictive features, sparking a nationwide outcry over the potential harm inflicted on young minds.
“Our country is facing a youth mental health crisis fueled by young people’s extensive and compulsive use of, and reliance on, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This has placed an entire generation of young people in jeopardy,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown. “Just like Big Tobacco did a generation ago, Meta has chosen to maximize its profits at the expense of public health, specifically the health of our children.”
The lawsuit argues that Meta’s actions have run afoul of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Attorneys general from participating states assert that Meta has utilized potent technologies to allure, engage, and ultimately trap youth and teenagers. The filing states unequivocally, “Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms.”
The National Institute of Health has reported a concerning surge in youth mental health issues nationwide, with the percentage of children aged 3 to 17 experiencing anxiety or depression rising from 9.4% in 2016 to 11.8% in 2020, marking a worrisome 25% increase. “Virginia’s laws protect consumers from deceptive and misleading business practices,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares. “We believe that Meta has violated these laws.” Miyares further accused Meta of downplaying the serious risks associated with their platform.
In response, Meta issued a statement emphasizing its commitment to providing safe online experiences for teens and families. The company said it had already introduced over 30 tools to support these efforts. However, Meta expressed disappointment that the attorneys general opted for litigation instead of collaborative industry-wide efforts to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for teen-oriented apps.
Notably, eight additional states, along with the District of Columbia, announced they would file similar suits.
The overarching lawsuit, filed by a bipartisan coalition of 33 state attorneys general in California’s federal court, extends its allegations to include Meta’s sharing of data about children under 13 without parental consent, potentially infringing federal privacy laws. The suit also contends that the company has exploited young users by designing algorithms to prolong their time on the platform, developed filters contributing to body dysmorphia, and presented content in an “infinite scroll” format, making it harder for children to disengage.