U.S. states accuse Meta of endangering the mental health of teenagers

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Over 40 U.S. states have accused social media giant Instagram of making teenagers addicted and endangering their mental health. This alarming situation has led to a multi-state investigation into the platform’s practices. The state attorneys are also probing the potential harm it causes to young users. New York State Attorney General, Letitia James and 32 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit in federal court. They are accusing Meta of taking advantage of the psychological vulnerabilities of young users to design its social media products. The Washington Post reports that these products endanger the mental health of young people.

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Meanwhile, nine other attorneys general have filed lawsuits in their respective states, and at least 42 states have taken action against Meta. A 2020 Meta internal document reveals that “teenagers are never satisfied when it comes to the ‘feel-good’ dopamine effect.”

The document states that the company’s existing products are already well-suited to delivering stimulation that triggers this potent neurotransmitter. “Whenever our teenage users discover something unexpected, their brains release dopamine.” The document notes

The lawsuit contends that Meta attempted to exploit the psychological characteristics of young users who are “prone to impulsivity, peer pressure, and potentially harmful and dangerous behaviour” to design its social media products.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges that Meta knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms to intentionally create addiction for children and teenagers.

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The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also alleges that Meta routinely collected data from children under 13. It claims Meta does not notify parents or obtain parental consent, in direct violation of federal law.

New York State Attorney General James said that the number of children and teenagers with poor mental health in the United States has reached a record high. She also claims that social media such as Meta are to blame.

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Meta’s Response

In response, Meta spokesperson Stephanie Otway said… “The lawsuit uses selective quotations and takes documents out of context to mischaracterize our work.”

The New York Times reported that Meta has received reports from more than 1.1 million Instagram users under the age of 13 since the beginning of 2019. However, Meta has “only banned a small number.” Instead, the giant is also collecting children’s personal information, such as their addresses and email addresses, without parental permission.

If they ultimately win the lawsuit, Meta may have to pay civil penalties of millions of dollars or more.

The lawsuit states, “Internally, Meta’s actual knowledge that one million Instagram users are under the age of 13 is an open secret. It is rigorously documented, carefully analyzed and confirmed, and protected from the public… . ”

According to the Melbourne Business Journal, they stated in the lawsuit… “Some executives suggested that if the pressure on underage users was increased, it might have a negative impact on Meta’s business… Therefore, Meta did not deliberately perform automatic detection or manual review.”

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