States accuse Meta of fueling children’s social media addiction
Oklahoma is one of eight states that sued in their own local courts
Thirty-three states sued Meta for fueling social media addiction among children and teenagers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished without a Getty subscription)
New Jersey has joined 32 other states in a lawsuit that accuses Meta of designing Facebook and Instagram to intentionally addict children and teens, in violation of state and federal laws that protect consumers and children’s online privacy.
The states say that Meta knew its platforms psychologically harmed youth but hid those harms and installed even more features like “infinite scroll and near-constant alerts” to fuel youths’ social media addiction, according to a 233-page complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in northern California. Addicting users serves Meta’s profit motive because the company sells advertisements targeting users, the states allege.
Meta also collected data from underage users without the parental consent federal law requires, according to the lawsuit. And the company routinely published “profoundly misleading reports” assuring the public its products were safe for young users, even though Meta’s internal research linked young people’s social media use to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and problems both at school and in daily life, the lawsuit charges.
New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said states aim to hold Meta and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, accountable for the “deceptive, manipulative practices” that have damaged the potential of a generation of young people by harming their physical and mental health.
“Profits – not people, not its most vulnerable users, children and teens – drive the decision-making at Meta. That stops today,” Platkin said in a statement.
Eight other states, including Oklahoma, filed complaints in their state courts alleging deceptive trade, consumer fraud, unlawful trade, unjust enrichment, negligence, product liability, and public nuisance claims. The multistate coalition that sued Meta also is investigating TikTok for similar practices.
The states are asking a judge to order Meta to stop using its addictive features and pay financial damages.
“Despite overwhelming internal research, independent expert analysis, and publicly available data that its Social Media Platforms harm young users, Meta still refuses to abandon its use of known harmful features — and has instead redoubled its efforts to misrepresent, conceal, and downplay the impact of those features on young users’ mental and physical health,” the lawsuit charges.
The company is even expanding its use of the addictive practices into new platforms and domains, including its Virtual Reality Metaverse, WhatsApp, and Messenger, the states complain.
The states cited five especially “psychologically manipulative” features they say exploit young users’ developing brains, including:
Recommendation algorithms the states characterize as “dopamine-manipulating.”“Likes” and social comparison features.Audiovisual and haptic alerts that continually recall users.Visual filter features that promote body dysmorphia.Content-presentation formats, such as infinite scroll, that keep users hooked.
Meta officially bars children under 13 from using its platform, but countless preteens use Facebook and Instagram without consequence from Meta, the lawsuit says.
Tuesday’s lawsuits come three years after Platkin’s office began investigating Meta for features designed to hook young users and push them into “rabbit holes” to keep them online longer.
They also come four months after legislators in the New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed a bill that would fine social media companies that use habit-forming features that entice underage users to develop social media addictions. That bill’s Senate version remains stalled in committee.
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