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Missouri and Kansas sue Meta, claiming Instagram and Facebook fueled youth mental health crisis

More than 40 states are suing Meta for allegedly harming young people's mental health by creating features on Facebook and Instagram that intentionally addict children.
Thibault Camus
More than 40 states are suing Meta for allegedly harming young people's mental health by creating features on Facebook and Instagram that intentionally addict children.

More than 40 states filed legal actions against Meta on Tuesday, alleging that the company intentionally designed features that hooked a generation of young people.

A group of more than 40 states sued Meta on Tuesday, accusing the social media giant of designing products that are deliberately addictive and fuel the youth mental health crisis.

The legal actions allege that Meta has deceived the public about the harms of Facebook and Instagram, which the attorneys general say "exploit and manipulate" children.

"Kids and teenagers are suffering from record levels of poor mental health and social media companies like Meta are to blame," New York 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."

More than 30 states joined a federal suit with Arizona, New York, West Virginia and others against Meta. Other attorneys general, including Tennessee and Washington, D.C., filed similar legal actions on Tuesday in state courts.

Collectively, more than 40 states paint a picture of a company that brushed aside safety concerns about its products in order to addict as many young people as possible as a way of juicing its profits.

The authorities say Meta's "dopamine-manipulating" features have poisoned an entire generation's mental health, citing a recommendation algorithm that determines what people see when they log onto Instagram and Facebook, the ability to "like" posts and to scroll without limits.

The lawsuits are seeking to have Meta's design features considered unlawful under state consumer protection laws that trigger hefty financial penalties. The state attorneys general are also asking courts to force the company to undertake drastic changes to Facebook and Instagram aimed at making the platforms safer for young people.

In a statement, Meta spokeswoman Nkechi Nneji said the company shares the s commitment of the states to providing teens with a safe, positive experience online. She said the company has introduced a number of features to support young users 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," Nneji said.

The court battles launched on Tuesday years after the Wall Street Journal exposed secret internal research at Meta that found that the company was aware of the harm Instagram has on the mental health of many teens, especially teenage girls, who felt worse about themselves after using the platform.

In one study the paper surfaced in its Facebook Files investigation, 32% of teen girls who felt bad about their bodies said using Instagram made them feel worse.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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