Meta knew it’s harming youth, but amplified features that fuel addiction

A coalition of 42 state attorneys general from across the United States has filed federal and state lawsuits against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that the tech giant knowingly designed and deployed features that addict children and teens to its platforms while falsely assuring the public of their safety.

The joint complaint, filed by New Jersey and 32 other states, asserts that Meta’s business practices violate the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and various state consumer protection laws, including the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. Eight additional states have filed similar actions in their state courts.

The allegations focus on the adverse impact of Meta’s platforms, specifically Facebook and Instagram, on the physical and mental health of children and teenagers, contributing to what the U.S. Surgeon General has described as a “youth mental health crisis.”

These practices have caused immeasurable harm, leading to tragic outcomes, shattered families, and the potential destruction of a generation of young lives.

When it learned of such consequences, the company amplified features that fuel addiction including infinite scroll, near-constant alerts, and algorithms that push users to descend into “rabbit holes.”

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said, “In the era of social media, their mental health has never been more at risk. That is why today, I join dozens of other Attorneys General to once and for all hold Meta and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, accountable for deceptive, manipulative practices on Instagram and Facebook that they knew were harmful. Profits – not people, not its most vulnerable users, children and teens – drive the decision making at Meta. That stops today.”

Cari Fais, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, added, “Meta knows its platforms are harming children and teens, but continues to make every effort to keep kids addicted without even attempting to abide by federal laws meant to protect the most vulnerable.”

New Jersey initiated its investigation into Meta in 2020 and has been leading the nationwide probe since 2021. The federal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses Meta of knowingly concealing the harm its platforms cause to young users while amplifying this harm through features designed to keep them addicted. It also alleges that Meta collected data from young users, including those under 13, without obtaining the required parental consent under federal law.

The complaint underscores that Meta actively targeted this young user base for its financial gain while publicly disavowing their presence on its platforms.

Confidential materials, not yet available to the public, provide additional insight into the company’s deceptive practices.

Publicly available sources, including disclosures from former Meta employees, detail how the campany’s algorithms purposefully make its platforms addictive to children and teens. Features like infinite scroll and constant notifications were created with the express intent of keeping young users engaged.

The complaint asserts that these manipulative tactics have had a detrimental impact on the physical and mental health of children and teens, including a disruption in sleep patterns, but Meta did not disclose these harmful effects and instead claimed that its platforms were safe for young users.

The lawsuit alleges violations of state consumer protection laws, including COPPA and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and seeks both injunctive and monetary relief to address the harm caused by these platforms.

The coalition of states is also investigating TikTok for similar conduct, with that inquiry ongoing. States have urged TikTok to provide adequate disclosure of information and documents in litigation related to the company’s failure to provide adequate discovery.

The states joining the federal lawsuit are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

In their individual state courts, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont have filed lawsuits, accusing Meta of violating numerous state laws, including deceptive trade, consumer fraud, unlawful trade, unjust enrichment, negligence, product liability, and public nuisance claims.

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