Accusations have been leveled against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, for allegedly deceiving the public regarding the hazards of social media use, thereby exacerbating a youth mental health crisis. These assertions were put forth in a federal lawsuit jointly announced by numerous US states. According to them, the company employed addictive elements to ‘trap’ users, all while obscuring the ‘significant risks’ associated with its platforms.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the 33 attorneys general supporting the lawsuit, stressed the importance of holding social media companies, including Meta, responsible for their contributions to a youth mental health crisis across the nation.
According to the lawsuit, Meta was accused of engaging in “deceptive” activities that contravened consumer protection laws. It also accused the company of collecting data from children under the age of 13, disregarding its responsibilities under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Nine additional states brought forward their lawsuits, echoing similar contentions. A spokesperson from Meta underscored the company’s shared commitment with the attorneys general to ensure a secure and positive online environment for teenagers, emphasizing the introduction of over 30 tools designed to assist teenagers and their families.
The spokesperson conveyed disappointment to World News, suggesting that the attorneys general had chosen this path instead of working collaboratively with companies across the industry to develop transparent, age-appropriate standards for the multitude of apps in use by teenagers. In response, Meta expressed its ‘disappointment’.
Meta disputes the claim that Instagram has adverse effects on the mental well-being of young individuals. Pratiti Raychoudhury, Vice President and Head of Research at Meta, asserted, “The notion that this research demonstrates Instagram’s ‘toxicity’ for teen girls is simply not accurate.” She clarified, “The research demonstrates that many of the teenagers we’ve communicated with believe that using Instagram aids them in coping with the usual challenges and issues that teenagers have always faced.
In the United States, Meta, as well as other social media companies, are currently contending with a multitude of lawsuits brought by families, youth, and school districts, all revolving around the mental health consequences.
While some studies indicate that Facebook’s expansion is unrelated to psychological distress, a substantial body of research has shown that prolonged social media usage can adversely affect the mental health of young individuals. In the UK, a coroner’s investigation into the tragic passing of Molly Russell attributed her demise to the World News as ‘adverse consequences of online content.
These legal battles have their roots in a 2021 examination of the company’s conduct by several state prosecutors. The investigation was triggered by the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen in the United States, who revealed that the company was cognizant of the potential harm its products could pose to children.
The states are seeking financial restitution and an end to what they argue are Meta’s detrimental actions. Body dysmorphia involves an excessive fixation on minor appearance flaws, often unnoticed by others. The lawsuit asserts, “Meta’s design decisions and practices exploit and contribute to young users’ vulnerability to addiction.