Pennsylvania joins lawsuit against Meta, claiming its social platforms harm children’s mental health

FILE - The Meta logo is seen at the Vivatech show in Paris, France, on June 14, 2023. A group of 33 states including California and New York are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harming young people’s mental health and contributing the youth mental health crisis by knowingly designing features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children to its platforms. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

By Associated Press

October 25, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that Meta knowingly designs and deploys features harmful to children on Instagram and Facebook, while at the same time, falsely assuring the public that those features are suitable for children.

Dozens of US states, including Pennsylvania, are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harming young people and contributing to the youth mental health crisis by knowingly and deliberately designing features on Instagram and Facebook that get children addicted to its platforms.

A lawsuit filed by 33 states in federal court in California, claims that Meta routinely collects data on children under 13 without their parents’ consent, in violation of federal law.

“The time has come for social media giants to stop trading in our children’s mental health for big profits,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Meta not only targets young minds with addictive, harmful, trap-door content – it also lies to the public and parents about how their platforms are safe. Creators have built multi-billion dollar empires by promoting a click-bait culture that is psychologically hurting kids.”

Pennsylvania joins the suit after Henry echoed the US Surgeon General’s advisory, in May, that bad social media company practices have contributed to a “youth mental health crisis.”

In addition, nine attorneys general are filing lawsuits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 41 and Washington, D.C.

The suits seek financial damages and restitution and an end to Meta’s practices that are in violation of the law.

The suit further alleges that Meta uses platform algorithms to push users into constant interaction with the platforms in an effort to maximize profit. Henry said features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts at all hours of the day were created with the express goal of hooking young users.

According to Henry, Meta allegedly knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but it did not disclose the harm nor did it make meaningful changes to minimize the harm.

“Meta has preyed on the vulnerability of young users seeking validation and approval from peers,” Henry said. “It has resulted in challenges with body image, self-worth, and a skewed sense of what is normal in the world offline.”

In a statement, Meta said it shares “the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and has already introduced over 30 tools to support teens 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,” the company added.

Keystone senior community editor Patrick Berkery contributed to this report.

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