Bipartisan coalition of attorneys general file lawsuits against Meta for harming youth mental health through its social media platforms
Oct. 24, 2023 (DENVER)—Today, in a nationwide action led by Colorado, 42 attorneys general throughout the country sued Meta in federal and state courts alleging that the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addict children and teens. At the same time, Meta falsely assured the public that these features are safe and suitable for young users.
The attorneys general assert that Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These practices have harmed and continue to harm the physical and mental health of children and teens and have fueled what the U.S. Surgeon General has deemed a “youth mental health crisis” which has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people.
“The deceptive and unfair practices used by Meta have deeply harmed our youth,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “We must address the insidious impact the compulsive use of Meta’s platforms has had on our young generation. Just like Big Tobacco and vaping companies have done in years past, Meta chose to maximize its profits at the expense of public health, specifically harming the health of the youngest among us. We will work tirelessly to hold the company accountable for the harm it has and continues to inflict.”
The federal complaint, joined by 33 states and filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, on young people. Instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, it misled the public about the harms associated with use of its platform, concealing the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to use of its platforms. The complaint further alleges that Meta knew that young users, including those under 13, were active on the platforms, and knowingly collected data from these users without parental consent. It targeted these young users noting, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, that such a user base was “valuable, but untapped.”
While much of the complaint relies on confidential material that is not yet available to the public, publicly available sources including those previously released by former Meta employees detail that Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to children and teens. Its platform algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” in an effort to maximize engagement. Features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users. These manipulative tactics continually lure children and teens back onto the platform. As Aza Raskin, the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, noted to the BBC about the feature’s addictive qualities: “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses, . . . you just keep scrolling.”
Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users.
These choices, the complaint alleges, violate state consumer protection laws and COPPA. The federal complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms caused by these platforms.
In parallel complaints filed in state courts today, eight states have made similar allegations. Tennessee’s state complaint, for example, is seeking injunctive and monetary relief for Instagram’s unfair and deceptive acts. It alleges that Meta designed Instagram to be addictive, purposefully targeted children and teens, and took advantage of their biologically limited capacity for self-control. Meta knew, the complaint alleges, of the wide range of harms compulsive use caused, including increased levels of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders; altered psychological and neurological development; and reduced sleep. Yet, the company continued to assure the public Instagram was safe and concealed the known significant risks of the platform.
These lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by Weiser and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. Nearly all the attorneys general in the country have worked together since 2021 to investigate Meta for providing and promoting its social media platforms to children and young adults while use is associated with physical and mental health harms. While some states have pursued litigation in state court and others in collective federal action, the attorneys general will continue to work together as the litigation continues.
The multistate coalition that brought today’s complaint is also investigating TikTok’s conduct on a similar set of concerns. That investigation remains ongoing, and Colorado has pushed for adequate disclosure of information and documents in litigation related to TikTok’s failure to provide adequate discovery in response to requests by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.
States joining the federal lawsuit to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Filing lawsuits in their own state courts are the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
Chief Communications Officer
(720) 508-6553 office | (720) 245-4689 cell