On October 24, 2023, a group of 33 states filed a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging that the company's social media platforms are harming the mental health of children and teenagers.
The lawsuit alleges that Meta has knowingly designed its platforms to be addictive and to exploit the vulnerabilities of young people. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta has failed to take adequate steps to protect children from harmful content on its platforms.
The lawsuit is the latest in a growing number of legal challenges against Meta over the company's role in harming the mental health of young people. In recent years, Meta has been accused of contributing to the increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide among children and teenagers.
"The more time kids spend on the app, the more addicted our kids become and the more money Meta makes," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said Tuesday during a news conference at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, which was streamed on the Facebook page of the state Department of Justice and attorney general's office.
"Meta knew it was harming our kids," Stein added. "And Meta lied to parents and the public about the risk its social media platforms posed against our young people."
In a statement, Meta said it shares "the attorneys general's commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families."
"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," the company added.
Meta has denied the allegations in the lawsuit. The company has said that it is committed to protecting young people on its platforms and that it has taken a number of steps to do so, such as developing parental controls and removing harmful content.
However, the states that have filed the lawsuit argue that Meta has not done enough to protect children. The states are seeking a court order requiring Meta to change its practices and to pay damages to the families of children who have been harmed by the company's platforms.
The outcome of the lawsuit could have a significant impact on Meta and on the way that social media platforms are designed and regulated. If the states are successful, Meta could be forced to make major changes to its platforms, and other social media companies could face similar lawsuits.
In Tuesday's cases, Meta could face civil penalties of $1,000 to $50,000 for each violation of various state laws -- an amount that could add up quickly given the millions of young children and teenagers who use Instagram.
Much of the focus on Meta stemmed from a whistleblower's release of documents in 2021 that showed the company knew Instagram, which began as a photo-sharing app, was addictive and worsened body image issues for some teen girls.
The lawsuit by the 33 states alleged that Meta has strived to ensure that young people spend as much time as possible on social media despite knowing that they are susceptible to the need for approval in the form of "likes" from other users about their content.
The lawsuit is also a reminder of the potential dangers of social media for children and teenagers. Parents should be aware of the risks and should take steps to protect their children from harm.
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