Meta facing legal action for contributing to youth mental health crisis
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing legal action from dozens of US states for its role in contributing to the youth mental health crisis.
The lawsuit, filed by 33 states in a federal court in California, alleges that Meta has deliberately designed features that cause children to become addicted to its platforms.
It also alleges that Meta violates federal law by routinely collecting data on children under 13 without their parents' consent.
Nine attorneys general are filing individual lawsuits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 41, along with Washington, D.C.
The federal suit is the result of an investigation led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from various states, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont.
The investigation concluded that social media platforms use addictive algorithms that entice young people with potentially harmful content, knowingly prioritising profits over mental health.
The addictive design of Meta's platforms
Meta's platforms are designed to be as engaging as possible, with features that keep users scrolling for hours on end. These features include:
Infinite scroll: This feature automatically loads new content as users scroll down, creating a never-ending stream of information.
Like and follow buttons: These buttons give users a sense of validation when they receive likes and follows from others, which can lead to addictive behavior.
Algorithmic feeds: Meta's feeds are personalised to show users content that they are likely to be interested in, which can keep them engaged for longer periods of time.
Studies have linked social media use to depression, anxiety, body image issues, and sleep problems.
One study found that adolescents who used social media for more than two hours a day were twice as likely to report symptoms of depression as those who used social media for less than 30 minutes a day.
Another study found that social media use was associated with an increased risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation in adolescents.
The lawsuit against Meta alleges that the company is aware of the harmful effects of its platforms on youth mental health, but continues to design features that are addictive and harmful. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta violates federal law by collecting data on children under 13 without their parents' consent.
The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of remedies, including:
An injunction requiring Meta to change the design of its platforms to make them less addictive and harmful.
Damages to compensate for the harm that Meta has caused to young people.
A requirement that Meta disclose more information about the way it collects and uses data.
The outcome of the lawsuit is still uncertain. However, if the plaintiffs are successful, it could have a significant impact on the way that social media platforms are designed and regulated.
What can parents do?
Parents can take a number of steps to protect their children from the harmful effects of social media use, including:
Talking to their children about the risks of social media use.
Setting limits on screen time.
Monitoring their children's social media use.
Encouraging their children to take breaks from social media.
Helping their children to develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and negative emotions.