Meta faces legal action over addictive social media features and the alleged harm to young users
A bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general has filed a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, citing concerns about addictive features targeted at children and teenagers. The legal action reflects a concerted effort to safeguard young users from potential online harm. Continue reading to learn more.
Addictive features and targeting of young users
The lawsuits allege that Meta's Facebook and Instagram platforms were purposefully designed to captivate younger users, fostering addictive behaviors and extended usage. The attorneys general argue that features such as copious notifications, infinite scrolling, and the promotion of social comparison and body image issues contribute to the detriment of young users' mental health. Additionally, Meta has been accused of violating the COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) by collecting personal data on users under 13 without parental consent.
With the participation of attorneys general from diverse political backgrounds, this legal action represents a significant step in addressing the growing concerns surrounding online consumer protection, particularly concerning vulnerable demographics such as children and teenagers. The move underscores a collective commitment to ensuring a safer digital environment for all users.
Implications for Meta and industry-wide investigation
In 2021, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, stirred controversy by disclosing internal documents, exposing the company's research. According to The Wall Street Journal, one document highlighted how Instagram intensified negative body image issues for a significant percentage of teenage girls. Instagram subsequently announced efforts to redirect users' focus away from detrimental content.
Brian Schwalb, Attorney General at the District of Columbia, noted that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is a universal trait, with adolescents, specifically those aged 12 to 16, being especially vulnerable. He suggested that Meta capitalizes on this inherent aspect to maintain users' engagement.
The lawsuit against Meta is positioned as a pivotal step in a larger industry-wide investigation into online platforms' practices. While acknowledging that other social media companies also employ similar engagement tactics, the attorneys general emphasized the need for responsible and ethical practices, especially when targeting young users. The coalition's actions are seen as a potential catalyst for improved standards and regulations within the industry.