Nov 28, 2023

Meta Sued Over Features Used To Lure Children Onto Social Media Platforms

Meta Sued Over Features Used To Lure Children Onto Social Media Platforms - social media

Late last month, Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook, Inc., was sued by a bipartisan coalition of over 40 state attorneys general that included California, New York, Georgia, South Carolina, and Illinois, accusing the social media giant of violating state and federal child privacy and false advertising laws. The lawsuits come as the states claim Meta Platforms designed its business models to radically maximize youth engagement via manipulative features that have had a strong negative effect on the mental and physical health of the children using the platforms. 

Many other states, including Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Mississippi, also filed similar actions. According to the combined lawsuits, the states said Meta’s platforms psychologically manipulate product features to induce young users’ “compulsive and extended use” of platforms like Instagram. As mentioned, the states believe the company’s algorithms were designed to push children and teenagers into rabbit holes of toxic and harmful content, creating features like “infinite scroll” and persistent alerts to hook young users. 

The attorneys general also charged the social media giant with violating a federal children’s online privacy law. The suit claims that Meta has violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which is when a company unlawfully collects the personal data of children under the age of 13 without their parent’s permission.

 

Meta Is Aware of the Harm Its Platforms Pose

In a press release issued from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, Meta is fully aware of the harm its platforms have on youth. “Meta’s own internal research documents show its awareness that its products harm young users. Indeed, internal studies that Meta commissioned — and kept private until they were leaked by a whistleblower and publicly reported — reveal that Meta has known for years about these serious harms associated with young users’ time spent on its platforms.” 

In 2021, Meta said it was working on its social apps to help create a safer environment for youths. The company has introduced more than “30 tools” to support teenagers and families; however, many still believe this is not nearly enough to help keep their children safe. Previous attempts from the company to provide safer use of their apps have also backfired. Later that year, Facebook announced its plan to develop and launch a version of one of its social media apps that would be aimed at users younger than 13, named “Instagram Kids,” however, it quickly received backlash among concerned lawmakers and children’s groups.

The announcement prompted a group of attorneys general from more than 40 states to write a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive. The letter expressed their concerns and urged the company to halt its plans surrounding the app, mentioning the company has a  “record of failing to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.” As mentioned in the press release, concerns arose later that year after whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, leaked internal research indicating the company knew the risks their platforms were to the mental health of young people, which led to the company placing a pause on the development of the new “kid friendly” app. 

Since then, multiple lawsuits and investigations have been launched into Meta’s social platforms in order to determine the extent of harm the social platform has done to youth. Earlier this year, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released a public statement that called attention to the urgent public health issue surrounding social media use, where his research showed that 46% of children aged 13–17 claimed social media made them feel worse. You can read more about Dr. Vivek Murthy’s statement and the negative effects social media has had on youth here

 

What’s Next for Meta and Social Platform Users?

For years, lawmakers around the world have tried to hold platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube accountable for the harm they’ve caused to their younger users. However, despite their attempts, many laws have been held up in Congress as tech companies continue to lobby against them. In this most recent lawsuit, the attorneys general are seeking financial penalties from Meta. The District of Columbia and the states are also requesting the court for an injunction that will force the company to cease the use of certain “tech features” that the states claim have harmed its younger users. Meta is expected to fight to dismiss the cases brought against it. 

This isn’t the first time Meta has been sued by a broad coalition of state attorneys general. In 2020, 48 states and territories sued the company on antitrust grounds, alongside a separate complaint from the Federal Trade Commission. To learn more information about the current lawsuits, or if you believe your child has suffered the adverse effects of using Meta social platforms, we may be able to help. For more information on how a Morgan & Morgan attorney may be able to help your case, contact us today by completing our free, no-obligation case evaluation form today.