Several state governments are taking legal action against Meta, alleging that its social media platforms have addictive properties and cause harm to the mental health of children.

Several U.S. states, such as California and New York, have filed lawsuits against Meta Platforms Inc. for causing harm to young individuals and exacerbating the mental health crisis among youth. It is alleged that the company intentionally and knowingly created features on Instagram and Facebook that promote addiction among children.

A legal case has been initiated by 33 states in the federal court of California, alleging that Meta consistently gathers information on children under the age of 13 without obtaining parental consent, which goes against federal regulations. Furthermore, nine attorneys general are also filing lawsuits in their own states, making the total number of states taking action 41, along with Washington, D.C.

The complaint alleges that Meta has utilized advanced technologies to attract and captivate young people. Its main goal is to make a profit, and in doing so, Meta has repeatedly deceived the public about the significant risks associated with its social media platforms. The company has hidden the ways in which these platforms exploit and control their most susceptible users: teenagers and children.

The lawsuits aim to obtain monetary compensation and reimbursement, as well as put a stop to Meta’s unlawful practices.

According to a statement by New York Attorney General Letitia James, young people are experiencing unprecedented levels of mental health issues, which can be attributed to social media companies like Meta. The company has benefited from the suffering of children by deliberately creating platforms with tactics that foster addiction and decrease self-confidence.

Meta stated that it shares the attorneys general’s dedication to ensuring that teens have a safe and positive online experience. Additionally, they have implemented more than 30 tools to assist both teens and their families.

“We are disappointed that the attorneys general have chosen this approach instead of collaborating with companies in the industry to establish definitive, age-appropriate guidelines for the numerous apps used by teenagers,” stated the company.

A comprehensive lawsuit has been filed by a group of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont after conducting an investigation. The suit follows damaging media coverage, initially reported by The Wall Street Journal in late 2021, which revealed that Meta’s research showed the negative impact Instagram can have on teenagers’ mental health and body image, particularly for teenage girls. According to an internal study, 13.5% of teen girls reported that Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and 17% reported it worsens eating disorders.

Following the first reports, a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press, published their own findings based on leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has testified before Congress and a British parliamentary committee about what she found.

“Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line.”

The majority of teenagers in the United States and other countries use social media. According to the Pew Research Center, almost all teens between the ages of 13 and 17 in the U.S. are active on a social media platform, and approximately one third of them use social media constantly.

In order to adhere to federal laws, social media corporations prohibit children under the age of 13 from creating accounts on their platforms. However, it has been proven that children are able to circumvent these restrictions with or without their parents’ knowledge, resulting in many young children having social media profiles. The lawsuit filed by the states alleges that Meta knowingly disregarded the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by gathering data from underage users without properly informing or obtaining consent from their parents.

Some social media platforms have implemented measures to address worries about the impact on children’s mental well-being, but these can be easily bypassed. For example, TikTok now has a standard 60-minute time restriction for users under 18, but minors can easily bypass this by entering a code. However, TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms that have been accused of exacerbating the mental health crisis among young people are not included in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

The Attorney General of Washington D.C., Brian Schwalb, declined to provide a statement on whether they are investigating TikTok or Snapchat. Currently, their focus is on the Meta empire, which includes Facebook and Instagram, according to Schwalb.

“They are notorious for exploiting technology to ensnare teenagers into social media addiction, prioritizing profits over the well-being of individuals.”

In May, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, urged tech companies, parents, and caregivers to promptly address the dangers of social media in order to safeguard children.


This story was contributed to by Associated Press writers Michael Casey, Michael Goldberg, Susan Haigh, Maysoon Khan, and Ashraf Khalil.