Dozens of US States sue Meta, claiming Instagram is linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia in kids

Dozens of US States sue Meta, claiming Instagram is linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia in kids
Photo credit: Reuters

Dozens of US states are suing Meta Platforms and its Instagram unit, accusing them of contributing to a youth mental health crisis through the addictive nature of their social media platforms.

In a complaint filed in the Oakland, California, federal court on Tuesday, 33 states including California and Illinois said Meta, which also operates Facebook, has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its platforms and knowingly induced young children and teenagers into addictive and compulsive social media use.

"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," the complaint said.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal actions against social media companies on behalf of children and teens. ByteDance's TikTok and Google's YouTube are also the subjects of the hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of children and school districts about the addictiveness of social media.

"Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens," the complaint said. "Its motive is profit."

The lawsuit seeks a variety of remedies, including substantial civil penalties.

Meta said that it had sought to make young people safe online.

"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," Meta said in a statement.

Meta shares declined slightly after the states' lawsuit was made public and were down 0.3%.

Much of the focus on Meta stems from the release of documents in 2021 that showed that Meta had data showing that Instagram, which began as a photo-sharing app, was addictive and worsens body image issues for some teen girls.

The lawsuit alleges that Meta strives to ensure that young people spend as much time as possible on social media despite knowing that teenage brains are susceptible to the need for approval in the form of "likes" from other users about their content. Meta deceptively denied publicly that its social media was harmful, the lawsuit said.

"As recently as 2020, Meta continued to intentionally design its platforms to manipulate dopamine responses in its young users to maximize time spent on its platforms. Meta did not disclose that its algorithms were designed to capitalize on young users' dopamine responses and create an addictive cycle of engagement," the complaint said.

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that plays a role in feelings of pleasure.

The lawsuit alleges that Meta also violated a law banning the collection of data of children under age 13.

The state action seeks to patch holes left by the U.S. Congress' inability to pass new online protections for children, despite years of discussions.

The lawsuit also alleged that Meta was seeking to expand what the states say are harmful practices into virtual reality, including Meta's Horizon Worlds platform as well as the communications apps WhatsApp and Messenger.

"Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Attorneys general for New Hampshire and Washington, DC both said that they have filed related lawsuits in local courts. Seven other states are expected to file similar lawsuits on Tuesday, bringing the total number of states suing to 42.

The Menlo Park, California, company and other social media companies already face hundreds of lawsuits brought on behalf of children and school districts raising similar claims.