SAN FRANCISCO (BP) — Meta’s social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram intentionally target children and teens with features that harm mental health, attorneys general in 42 states and Washington D.C. said in lawsuits Oct. 24.
A group of 33 states including California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois filed a federal lawsuit jointly in the Northern District of California, while nine states and Washington D.C. filed individually, according to press releases and court filings.
Depression, anxiety, insomnia, body dysmorphia, unhealthy prolonged use of sites, and interferences with education and daily life are alleged results of Meta’s manipulative algorithms and other features targeting youth as their brains are still developing.
Meta “has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans,” the joint lawsuit alleges. “Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens. 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.”
Southern Baptist educator and ethicist Jason Thacker said the lawsuits illustrate how society – including Christians – can jointly work to protect our children.
“If we have learned anything from the past few years, it is that social media and other technologies are not neutral tools but ones that are profoundly shaping every aspect of our society – including the lives of children and teenagers,” said Thacker, assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College, and a senior fellow at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“This bipartisan litigation illustrates that these concerns are not just limited to certain groups,” he said, “and that protecting young people online is something we should all be able to support.”
Thacker urges bipartisan state and federal legislation to help protect children and teenagers from future and further harm.
“From debates over the nature of parental rights and the role of government in checking the power of this industry,” Thacker said, “there are vital questions that we must consider as Christians living in an increasingly digital public square.”
Meta showed disappointment with the lawsuit, expressing a shared “commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online,” and saying it has introduced more than 30 tools to support teens and their families. Defendants in the lawsuit are Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly known as Facebook), Instagram L.L.C., Meta Payments Inc. and Meta Platform Technologies LLC.
“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,” Meta said in a statement.
Some details of the federal lawsuit released to the public are redacted, but among the claims asserted are:
- Meta’s business model is designed to maximize the time young users spend on its social media platforms, with the extended time earning Meta more in advertising dollars.
- Meta has developed and refined a set of “psychologically manipulative” platform features to maximize time spent on the site, ignoring the company’s own knowledge that the brains of children and teens are especially vulnerable to such manipulation.
- Meta has intentionally and falsely represented its products as safe for children’s mental health, downplaying harsh outcomes.
- Meta has broken the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by unlawfully collecting children’s personal data without parental consent.
The lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by attorneys general Jonathan Skrmetti in Tennessee and Philip Weiser in Colorado, Skrmetti said in a press release. Tennessee is among states filing individual lawsuits, while Colorado is included in the multistate federal action.
“Targeting kids with a harmful product and lying about its safety violates the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act,” Skrmetti said. “Meta knows every last design decision that made Instagram addictive to kids, and that means it knows exactly how to fix the problem. We’re suing to make the company fix the problem.”
Most of the states have worked together since 2021 to investigate the social media industry, Skrmetti said, and are also investigating TikTok for similar concerns.
Other states suing individually are Florida (U.S. District Court for Middle District of Florida), Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont.
In addition to California, Colorado, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, other states in the combined federal lawsuit are Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.