Almost every state in the union has now filed lawsuits against Meta (formerly Facebook) for causing mental illness in children. The company is accused of using manipulative and addictive strategies to make kids stay online as long as possible, which in turn leads to serious mental issues in kids—not to mention the fact that they get addicted to social media. The lawsuits also accuse Instagram, which is owned by Meta, of using the same tactics to target children.
The lengthy complaint against Meta says that the company engaged in a “scheme to exploit young users for profit.” The lawsuits follow on the heels of a 2021 probe into whether Meta and Instagram were causing mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The company has been consistently found to be illegally harvesting children’s data and violating federal online privacy laws related to children. Meta is also accused in the lawsuits of lying about safety features on the site and the prevalence of harmful material.
California and Colorado are leading a group of 33 states that has filed suit against Meta in Northern California. The District of Columbia and eight other states have filed separate lawsuits at the same time, in DC federal court.
Liza Crenshaw, the spokesperson for Meta, says the company is “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.”
Even that statement from Meta seems disingenuous. Meta seems to be saying, “We’re too stupid to protect children from harmful or addictive content that we’re putting in front of them, unless the government regulates us!”
Really? That’s the argument you want to go with? Why does it take the government stepping in to create age-appropriate standards for apps that teens use? Meta knows what age-appropriate standards are for kids, and so do Google/YouTube and TikTok and every other big tech company. They just don’t care.
Recent lawsuits against Meta by parents and school districts have been consolidated into class actions, but the 41 states don’t seem interested in doing that in these cases. They’re hoping that a multi-pronged effort that hits the company from every direction will have better results. Civil fines, restitution, and major changes in how Meta operates are all options for penalties.
The push to crack down on the company started back in 2021 when a Facebook whistleblower released the company’s own internal documents to the Wall Street Journal. Instagram’s internal research showed that using the platform worsened body issues in teenage girls, which in turn led to higher rates of bulimia, anorexia, depression, and other problems.
Those revelations prompted parents, state legislatures, and the federal government to try to take action. Meta greased enough palms in Congress, however, that federal legislation has gone nowhere. That left states on their own in trying to figure out how to deal with the company.
Utah and Arkansas have banned kids under 13 from using social media, and teens under 18 have to get parental consent to use these sites. Parents and school districts have also launched suits against Meta, TikTok, and other companies, particularly for causing mental health issues in kids and reducing attention spans in the classroom. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory earlier this year stating that excessive social media use in kids leads to sleep deprivation and body dissatisfaction.
Going after Meta at the state level is really only scratching the surface of this problem, however. Most public school districts in the US now provide every student with a Chromebook, starting in First Grade. There’s probably a reason why every tech executive in the Bay Area sends their kids to private schools where no “screen time” or technology is allowed. They must know something about their own products that the rest of us don’t.