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33 U.S. states sue Meta and Instagram over harmful features affecting youth's mental well-being

Written by  Annesha Barua -- October 25th 2023 01:20 PM -- Updated: October 25th 2023 01:36 PM
33 U.S. states sue Meta and Instagram over harmful features affecting youth's mental well-being

33 U.S. states sue Meta and Instagram over harmful features affecting youth's mental well-being

Washington, October 25: Dozens of U.S. states, including California and New York, have initiated a lawsuit against Meta Platforms Inc, accusing the tech giant of knowingly designing addictive features on Instagram and Facebook that harm the mental health of young people. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, also alleges that Meta routinely collects data on children under the age of 13 without their parents' consent, in violation of federal law.

The complaint contends that Meta has utilised powerful technologies to engage and captivate youth and teenagers, primarily driven by profit motives. It asserts that Meta has repeatedly downplayed the significant risks associated with its social media platforms, as well as the ways these platforms exploit and manipulate their most vulnerable users: teenagers and children.

In addition to the 33 states, nine other attorneys general from various states are also pursuing legal action, bringing the total number of states involved to 42.

New York Attorney General Letitia James stated, "Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health, and social media companies like Meta are to blame. Meta has profited from children's pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem."

Meta responded to the lawsuit by expressing its commitment to providing safe and positive online experiences for teenagers, highlighting the introduction of over 30 tools to support teens and their families. The company expressed disappointment that the attorneys general had chosen to take this legal path rather than working collaboratively with the industry to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for the use of apps by teenagers.

This lawsuit follows a comprehensive investigation led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from multiple states, prompted by revelations in newspaper reports, including those by The Wall Street Journal in 2021, which cited Meta's internal research indicating that Instagram can have detrimental effects on teenagers' mental health and body image, especially among teen girls.

One study mentioned in the reports indicated that 13.5 per cent of teen girls claimed that Instagram worsened thoughts of suicide, while 17 per cent believed it exacerbated eating disorders.

The prevalence of social media use among teenagers in the U.S. is widespread, with up to 95 per cent of youth aged 13 to 17 reporting usage of social media platforms, and more than a third of them stating they use social media "almost constantly," according to the Pew Research Center.

Despite federal regulations prohibiting children under 13 from signing up for social media platforms, many youngsters find ways to bypass these restrictions, both with and without their parents' consent. Various safety measures implemented by social media platforms to address concerns about children's mental health can also be circumvented.

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy called on tech companies, parents, and caregivers to take immediate action to protect children from the harmful effects of social media.

Also Read: 'Udham NGO': From blood donors to life changers: The inspirational journey of 'Mission 365 Days, 365 Patients'

- With inputs from agencies


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