A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general is suing Meta over addictive features aimed at kids and teens, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in a federal court in California. The support from so many state attorneys general of different political backgrounds indicates a significant legal challenge to Meta’s business.
The lawsuit represents the latest legal challenge for the company and is another demonstration of the bipartisan priority that state law enforcers have placed on protecting kids and teens from online harm.
It’s also not the first time a broad coalition of state AGs have teamed up to go after Meta. In 2020, 48 states and territories sued the company on antitrust grounds, alongside a separate complaint from the Federal Trade Commission.
A spokesperson for Meta said in an emailed statement: “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families. 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 designed its Facebook and Instagram products to keep young users on them for longer and repeatedly coming back, the attorneys generael allege. According to the federal complaint, Meta did this via the design of its algorithms, copious alerts, notifications and so-called infinite scroll through platform feeds. The company also includes features that the attorneys general allege negatively impact teens’ mental health through social comparison or promoting body dysmorphia, such as “likes” or photo filters.
The federal suit also accuses Meta of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal data on users under 13 without parental consent.
The states are seeking an end to what they see as Meta’s harmful practices, as well as penalties and restitution.
Meta was well aware of the negative effects its design could have on its young users, the attorneys general allege.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen caused an uproar among lawmakers and parents in 2021 after leaking internal documents from the company that revealed internal research on its products. One set of documents about Instagram’s impact on teens found that “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” The Wall Street Journal reported before Haugen made her identity known. Following the report, Instagram said it was working on ways to pull users away from dwelling on negative topics.
Several of the practices the attorneys general focus on for Meta are similar to those exercised by other social media businesses, such as designing algorithms to keep users engaged.
Among the states that filed the suit are California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.