Meta’s Facebook And Instagram Sued By 41 States Over Claims Platforms Manipulate Children; Billions In Potential Penalties Sought

It’s most of the United States vs Mark Zuckerberg over the tactics of social media platforms towards kids.

Forty-one states on Tuesday filed lawsuits against Instagram and Facebook parent company Meta over strategies and algorithms they use to capture young people’s attention and keep them scrolling endlessly. At the same time, while pledging to make the platforms safe for minors and their mental health, the suit claims that Meta has essentially disregarded any significant guardrails such as “alternative feasible age verification” that could help with such protections.

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“Research has shown that young people’s use of Meta’s Social Media Platforms is associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia, interference with education and daily life, and many other negative outcomes,” asserts the biting joint complaint filed in federal court today by 33 states, including California and New York. “Nonetheless, Meta has continued to deny and downplay these harmful effects to the public and to promote its Platforms as safe for young users.” (Read the Meta lawsuit here).

While the District of Columbia and eight other state Attorneys General offices are pursuing their own actions in various jurisdictions, the multi-state suit lays out the overall case — you do not want to scroll past, because it is pretty damning. With individual violation penalties starting in the $2,500-each range from states like Meta’s home base in California, the greater financial hit could run into the billions for the Zuckerberg-founded tech giant based on IG and Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users.

“Over the past decade, Meta — itself and through its flagship Social Media Platforms Facebook and Instagram (its Social Media Platforms or Platforms) — has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans,” reads the 233-page complaint seeking injunctive relief and more.

In many ways, this latest suit was spawned by whistleblower revelations and a 2021 study from state attorneys general across the nation that examined whether Meta was violating consumer protection laws in its desire to capture the under-18 demographic.

The he conclusion today appears to be a resounding yes.

“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the joint filing states. “Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms. It has concealed the ways in which these Platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children. And it has ignored the sweeping damage these Platforms have caused to the mental and physical health of our nation’s youth. In doing so, Meta engaged in, and continues to engage in, deceptive and unlawful conduct in violation of state and federal law.”

mark zuckerberg, facebook
Mark Zuckerberg

Meta did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on the joint suit and the other individual state actions. If and when it does, we will update this post.

“We share 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,” a Meta spokesperson said of the suit. “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.”

Wall Street has issued at least a partial response of their own to today’s suits. Meta shares, which have more than doubled in 2023 to date, slipped a fraction of a point on the news.

Dade Hayes contributed to this report.

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