A coalition of 41 US states and the District of Columbia sued Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) on Tuesday and argued that its social networks Instagram and Facebook are addictive and harmful to children.
This legal action is the most significant effort by state authorities to stop the impact of social networks on the mental health of minors and to force Meta to change the characteristics of its networks due to how dangerous it is, according to what they claim, for children and younger users.
A total of 33 states, including Colorado and California, filed a joint lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of California, while other attorneys general in Washington D.C. and 8 states are filing separate complaints in federal, state or local courts.
A national problem
In a joint virtual press conference, several attorneys general highlighted that addiction to these social networks is a “national problem” and that, despite the political division between Republicans and Democrats, they were able to work together on this issue, which they compared to the fight against tobacco or opium.In addition, they hinted that a similar lawsuit could be expected against the Chinese social network TikTok, but did not provide more information.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti noted that Instagram has targeted its application at teenagers and children, who “are more vulnerable and more susceptible to this type of manipulation.”
The mental health of young people
The barrage of lawsuits is rooted in a 2021 investigation into the various ways the tech titan contributes to mental health problems among young people.In 2021, The Wall Street Journal exposed in a report prepared with internal information how Instagram worsened the perception of users – especially girls and adolescents – about their bodies, and noted that the company was aware of this problem.
“Meta knew that these mental health problems existed and that Instagram was making them worse. And instead of making changes, the company sought more and more participation from children,” Skrmetti noted.
For his part, Rob Bonta, California Attorney General, noted that the joint investigation “has discovered that Meta has deceived its users and is putting children in danger.”
“There is a mountain of evidence that shows that if children spend more time on social networks that tends to correlate with depression, anxiety and body image problems,” said Bonta, who indicated that when Mark Zuckerberg, executive director of the company, testified before Congress, lied when he said that Meta did not design its products to be addictive.
For her part, Meta spokesperson NkechiNneji said in a statement sent to the media that the technology giant wants to give teenagers a safe and positive online experience.
“We are disappointed that the attorneys general have chosen this path instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards on the many apps that teens use,” Nneji said.
Since the 2021 investigation came to light, some states such as Arkansas and Utah have passed laws banning children under 13 from accessing social media and requiring teens under 18 to obtain parental consent. to access the sites.For its part, California passed laws requiring technology companies to examine their platforms for possible risks and problems.