Numerous U.S. states have taken legal action against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that they have profited at the expense of children’s well-being, causing harm to their mental health and perpetuating a false sense of safety on their platforms.
A joint lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, contends that Meta has consistently deceived the public about the substantial risks associated with their social media platforms. Over 40 states are involved in these legal actions, with some choosing to file in local courts rather than participating in the federal case.
The legal filing argues that Meta’s business model deliberately exploits young users by encouraging extended usage of their platforms, despite the harm caused to their mental and emotional health.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, in a statement introducing the lawsuit, claimed that children and teenagers are facing unprecedented levels of mental health issues, and social media companies, including Meta, are responsible for this crisis. She accused Meta of intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that foster addiction among children and diminish their self-esteem.
The lawsuit accuses Meta of engaging in deceptive and unlawful practices that harm vulnerable youth for the sake of financial gain. It calls for the federal court to compel Meta to cease these manipulative tactics and impose substantial financial penalties, as well as restitution.
James stated, “Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable.”
In response, Meta expressed its disappointment with the lawsuit and emphasized that the states should collaborate with various social media companies to establish age-appropriate standards. The tech firm asserted that it has introduced more than 30 tools in its apps to support teenage users and facilitate parental control over online activities.
Meta argued that it is unfair for attorneys general to single out Meta when other social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Snap also have a significant impact. The company suggested that social media can be a source of support and community for young people dealing with various challenges in their lives.
These legal complaints stem from a nationwide investigation initiated in November 2021, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta. He declared, “Our bipartisan investigation has arrived at a solemn conclusion: Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits.”
The investigation was triggered by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked over 20,000 pages of internal documents to the media, sparking accusations that the social media giant prioritized profit over user safety.
During her testimonies before American and European lawmakers in 2021, Haugen contended that Facebook had failed to combat harmful content and could not be trusted to reform its practices.
In response, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta later that year, a move viewed by some as an attempt to distance the company from its social networking controversies. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company, refuting claims that they deliberately promoted content for profit at the expense of users’ well-being.