A bipartisan group of 42 U.S. attorneys general today announced they are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harms they say Instagram and Facebook are perpetrating on young people.
This is not the first time Meta has been accused of knowingly developing products that are detrimental to the well-being of youngsters, with the company in the past having to deflect the criticism that it places profit ahead of safety where mental health is concerned. While the company has put some effort into decreasing such harms over the years, it’s widely agreed that these apps exploit a psychological vulnerability in humans, with children being particularly vulnerable.
A lawsuit led by the states of Colorado and California includes 33 states in all. It was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today. Nine attorneys general have filed separate suits in their respective states and the District of Columbia, with each state saying Mark Zuckerberg’s world-changing applications have been created to be addictive and are “psychologically manipulative.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said an investigation by the group of attorneys led to a “solemn conclusion.” He accused Meta of “cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits” while knowingly developing harmful and psychologically manipulative features and misleading the public about their harms. Whether connected or not, it’s worrying that the suicide rate for teens, especially males, has massively increased over the last decade, while there are worrying statistics regarding female self-harm. The attorneys in their lawsuits discussed this mental health crisis in the young.
“Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health, and social media companies like Meta are to blame,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem. Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis, and they must be held accountable.”
Over the years, there have been countless research papers stating that apps such as Instagram create myriad problems for young people. It has been said that using the app can lead to anxiety and depression, which may result in self-harm as youths battle it out in their digital world, where envy and insecurity flourish. In 2021, Meta had to sideline the development of Instagram Kids because of pushback from child safety advocates and a scathing letter co-signed by 44 state attorneys general.
Former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya, in 2017, shocked the world when he said the “dopamine-driven feedback loops” that exist on Facebook and such platforms are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” He wasn’t the first person to say this, but coming from him added weight to others’ convictions.
Meta may be somewhat used to digging itself out from an avalanche of criticism where its users’ mental health is concerned, but this time, with attorneys who hold diverse and divisive opinions in their political stances coming together, one feels Meta will be forced to making some profound changes to its products. This case is reminiscent of when attorneys have joined forces to attack Big Pharma or Big Tobacco, so it’s likely their lawsuits will have the backing of a large portion of the populace.
Photo: Creative Christians/Unsplash
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