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Meta Faces Legal Action from US States Over Harm to Mental Health

Several states in the United States, notably California and New York, have filed lawsuits against Meta Platforms.

Several U.S. states, including California and New York, have initiated legal proceedings against Meta Platforms Inc., accusing the tech giant of harming young people’s mental health. 

The lawsuit alleges that Meta knowingly and deliberately designed features on Instagram and Facebook that are addictive and contribute to a youth mental health crisis.

Federal and State-Level Actions:

A lawsuit was filed by 33 states in federal court in California, claiming that Meta routinely collects data on children under 13 without their parent’s consent, violating federal law. 

Nine state attorneys general are filing similar lawsuits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking legal action to 41, including Washington, D.C.

Allegations Against Meta:

The legal complaint asserts that Meta has used powerful technologies to engage and addict youth and teenagers to its platforms. 

The primary motive, it alleges, is profit, and Meta has allegedly misled the public about the dangers of its social media platforms. 

The complaint also claims that Meta has concealed how its platforms exploit and manipulate vulnerable consumers, particularly teenagers and children.

The lawsuits seek financial damages and restitution, along with a demand to cease Meta’s practices that violate the law.

Impact on Youth Mental Health:

New York Attorney General Letitia James stated that “Meta has profited from children’s pain” by designing platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to them while negatively affecting their self-esteem.

Meta’s Response:

Meta issued a statement expressing its commitment to providing safe and positive online experiences for teenagers and their families. 

The company has introduced more than 30 tools to support teens. 

Meta expressed disappointment with the legal actions taken by the attorneys general and noted the importance of industry collaboration in establishing clear, age-appropriate standards for apps used by teenagers.

The federal lawsuit results from an investigation led by a bipartisan team of attorneys general from several states. 

It follows the publication of damning reports in 2021 based on Meta’s internal research, which revealed the negative impact of Instagram, particularly on teenage girls’ mental health.

Prevalence of Social Media Among Teens:

Social media usage among teenagers is widespread in the United States and other parts of the world. 

The complaint highlights teens’ near-universal adoption of social media platforms, citing Pew Research Center statistics.

Challenges in Regulating Underage Access:

Despite regulations prohibiting kids under 13 from using social media platforms, children have been found to circumvent these bans, sometimes with or without parental consent. 

The complaint argues that Meta knowingly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting data on children without proper parental notification and consent.

Focus on Meta’s Empire:

The lawsuit primarily targets Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, for their alleged role in contributing to youth mental health problems. It does not include other platforms like TikTok and Snapchat.

In May, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy urged tech companies, parents, and caregivers to take immediate action to protect children from the adverse impacts of social media on their mental health.

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