A group of 42 prosecutors from various U.S. states have filed accusations against Meta, alleging that its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, contribute to the development of addiction among children and teenagers. This lawsuit serves as another testament to the growing importance of safeguarding the rights of children and teenagers in the online world, becoming a top priority for state law enforcement agencies.
The wide-scale legal action was announced on Tuesday, and the support from prosecutors of diverse political affiliations underscores the seriousness of the legal issues Meta may face. According to a press release from the New York State Attorney General's office, Letitia James, prosecutors from 33 states filed a federal lawsuit against Meta in the Northern District of California, while 9 other prosecutors filed suits in their respective states.
During a press conference following the lawsuit filing, Jonathan Skrmetti, the prosecutor for the state of Tennessee, expressed his concern about the current political climate in the country, emphasizing the importance of bipartisan support in protecting children and teenagers from online threats. He stated, "America is going through tough times. We have polarization like we haven't seen since the Civil War. So the fact that all the attorneys general from both parties, people who often vehemently disagree with each other, have come together and are moving in the same direction, in my view, says a lot."
Prosecutors allege that Meta designed Facebook and Instagram in a manner that sustains the interest of young users and encourages their frequent return to these social networks. According to the lawsuit, Meta achieved this through algorithms, a high volume of notifications, and the so-called endless scrolling feature. The company also incorporates features that, according to the attorneys general, have a negative impact on the mental health of teenagers through social comparison or the promotion of body dysmorphic tendencies, such as likes and photo filters.
Prosecutors have also accused Meta of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), claiming that the company collects personal data from users under the age of 13 without parental consent.
This case is not the first time a broad coalition of state attorneys general has united to take on Meta. In 2020, 48 U.S. states and territories filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company, along with a separate complaint from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
These lawsuits draw attention to the growing concerns about the safety of children on the internet and raise questions about how major technology companies can and should ensure the creation of a safe online environment for their users. Besides Meta, other social media platforms, such as TikTok, are also under investigation for similar issues.
Legal actions against Meta may only scratch the surface of deeper issues concerning the interaction between individuals and the digital world. Finding a balance between innovation and safety remains an open question, requiring public dialogue and a responsible approach from those shaping our digital future.