States sue social media company for youth harm

California Attorney General Rob Bonta led a coalition of 33 attorneys on Oct. 24 in filing a federal lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc., the parent company of social media platforms Instagram and Facebook. The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California — accused Meta of intentionally designing and using features that led to the addiction and harm of children and teens, according to ABC News, a conclusion derived from a 2021 investigation into Meta and Instagram.

In a press release by the California Department of Justice, Bonta said that “Meta has been harming our children and teens, creating “an addiction to boost corporate profits.”

This joint filing joins eight other state lawsuits against Meta and an ongoing investigation into TikTok. According to the same press release, “[Bonta’s] bipartisan effort seeks to hold Meta accountable for what is perceived as a blatant disregard for the well-being of its youngest users.”

The lawsuit rests on federal and state laws which included the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, California’s False Advertising Law and California’s Unfair Competition Law, according to a federal complaint filed by multiple states in October. The violation of COPPA — an act designed to protect the online privacy of children under 13 — is a focal point in Meta’s alleged harmful business practices. Much of the lawsuit revolves specifically around Meta’s alleged misconduct of maximizing young users’ screen time and employing psychologically manipulative features, while “misleading the public about their safety,” according to Business Insider.

Madeline Polonia, a clinical psychologist based in San Diego, said social media reliance has risen recently. “Parents have shared many concerns that their teens are constantly on their phones, worried if their posts are being liked, and they have fewer conversations at home,” Polonia said. Some students are aware of these addictive qualities.

Sinaya Sharabi (10), who abstains from social media, sees apps like Snapchat and TikTok as distractions and potential sources of dependency. She said she “weighed the pros and cons of downloading [a social media app],” but she is “happier without it.”

Nolan Greer (11), a user of various platforms, shared another perspective.

“We should reconsider who is to blame [for social media addiction in adolescents] … what I find and what I’ve heard is that children are given technology a lot younger than they were 20 to 30 years ago,” Greer said. “With that, we have to consider where we went wrong as a society by not considering the dangers of giving our kids technology and access to social media so early.”

As the legal battle against Meta unfolds, the attorneys seek injunctive and monetary relief to address the alleged misconduct.

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