ATTORNEY GENERAL Andrea Campbell filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Meta Platforms, alleging that the company’s Facebook and Instagram platforms violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by knowingly utilizing methods to hook and consequently harm young people.
This lawsuit is part of an effort by attorneys general in 42 states who are filing similar lawsuits in their own states as well as a larger federal lawsuit.
“Meta has preyed on an entire generation of young people for profit,” said Campbell at an online press conference announcing the lawsuit. “The company knew exactly how [their] design decisions could and would hook young people to the point of addiction and yet continued to use them and in many cases rejected using feasible alternatives that they knew would mitigate harm to our young people. They did all of this with profit in mind, not people, not young users.”
The lawsuit comes as a result of a multistate, bipartisan investigation that was launched two years ago in Massachusetts by Campbell’s predecessor as attorney general, Maura Healey, who is now the governor.
The investigation was launched soon after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen released company internal research and documents showing that the company was aware of the impact that its products were having on young people. Campbell confirmed that the lawsuit would rely substantially on documents released by Haugen.
Instagram is one of the social media platforms of choice for younger users—there you can upload photos with witty captions, message other users, and wait for the exhilaration that getting a “like” on your picture brings. Some people have even more than one Instagram account—they might have a “finsta” or a “fake insta” where they can post pictures and videos that they might only want a certain set of social media friends to see. A “finsta” can also be used by young people to hide what they do not want their parents to see on a main account.
Both Facebook and Instagram employ a variety of tactics to keep eyeballs on their platforms. These include infinite scroll, which allows a user to never reach the bottom of their feed, near-constant notifications and alerts, autoplay on videos, and the “Like” button, which has been criticized as an “intermittent variable rewards” mechanism with an attraction similar to a slot machine.
Documents released by Haugen show that Meta was aware of the harm that Instagram could do to younger users. For example, Meta knew about the harm that could be done to teenage girls with body image issues scrolling through accounts that promote unrealistic beauty standards and eating disorders. According to the internal documents, 32 percent of teen girls said that Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.
Meta denied that its platforms harm young people and noted the company has implemented “over 30 tools to support teens” on its apps.
“We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path,” a Meta spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The complaint filed against Meta alleges that the company knew that the practices employed on its two social media platforms caused severe harm to teenage users and chose to hidethat informationt.
The complaint also alleges that the company did not do its due diligence to prevent children under 13-years-old, who are not allowed on Instagram, from accessing the platform. This, according to the complaint, induced young users to become addicted and neglect homework or skip sleeping.
The lawsuit by Campbell claims that Meta has also placed an undue burden on school systems and increased health care expenditures in Massachusetts.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said during the press conference that his colleagues in other states did try to seek a settlement with Meta but that they weren’t able to do that in this case and that’s why they filed the lawsuit.
Meta claims it is being singled out among other social media platforms at a time when research on teen mental health isn’t definitive.
“This is not just about Meta, but it’s one of the biggest players and it’s an entity where there is clear evidence of misleading the public and making deliberate decisions to hurt kids,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said at the press conference.
No timeline was provided on how the litigation will proceed in this case. California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the point of the lawsuit is to seek injunctive change in the practices that have caused harm and move forward with healthier practices and protocols.
“The primary goal here is to protect the health and safety of our children and to use the data and studies that give us the knowledge of harm to protect our kids – not to exploit them and not to seek a profit while our children suffer,” he said.