Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today filed suit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, among other brands. The federal complaint, joined by 33 states and filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asserts that Meta knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addict children and teens. All the while, Meta falsely assured the public that these features are safe and suitable for young users.
The attorneys general assert that Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Further, these practices have harmed and continue to harm the physical and mental health of children and teens, fueling what the U.S. Surgeon General –America’s top doctor – has deemed a “youth mental health crisis” that has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people.
“These platforms are not safe for our young Americans, and Meta knew that! Yet, instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, Meta misled the public and hid the extent of the harms to mental health suffered by young users addicted to the use of its platforms,” said AG Rosenblum.
The complaint further alleges that Meta knew that young users, including those under 13, were active on the platforms, and knowingly collected data from these users without parental consent. It targeted these young users noting, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, that such a user base was “valuable, but untapped.”
While much of the complaint relies on confidential material that is not yet available to the public, publicly available sources including those previously released by former Meta employees, detail that Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to children and teens.
Its platform algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” in an effort to maximize engagement. Features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users. These manipulative tactics continually lure children and teens back onto the platform. As Aza Raskin, the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, noted to the BBC about the feature’s addictive qualities: “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses . . . you just keep scrolling.”
Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users.
These lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation. Oregon is joined in the federal lawsuit by: Arizona, California, Colorado (lead state), Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee (lead state), Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Filing lawsuits in their own state courts are the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit.