Letitia James and 32 other attorneys general sue Meta for ‘harming youth’

Attorneys general from 33 states, including New York AG Letitia James, have filed a lawsuit against tech giant Meta alleging it designed harmful features that contributed to the youth mental health crisis.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg’s company knowingly created addictive and “psychologically manipulative” features targeted at young people while falsely assuring the public it was safe to use.

Some of the features, they say, include infinite scrolling, filters that change a person’s face or body, notifications that call young people back to Meta’s social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook and more.

“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,” Ms James said in a statement.

“Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable,” she added.

Multiple studies have shown that children and teenagers’ prolonged exposure to social media can have negative impacts on their mental health due to disrupting their sleep, exposing them to bullying, rumour spreading, unrealistic views of people’s lives and more

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Meta internally knew the impact of social media on young people but denied and downplayed the potential harm anyway in order to maximize profit – something a Facebook whistleblower testified to Congress about in 2021.

The lawsuit seeks to force Meta to drastically change some of its design features that they allege are harmful to young people as well as impose financial penalties under each state’s specific consumer protection law.

In a statement provided to The Independent, a spokesperson for Meta said, “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.”

Some of the “tools” Meta has implemented to help young people include age verification, preventing content that promotes harmful behaviours, giving users the option to hide “like” counts, prompting young people to take breaks or set timers and more.

“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,” the spokesperson added.

The lawsuit is the latest action taken against tech giants as concern about the impact of social media on young people grows.