Dozens of states sue Meta over youth mental health crisis

Dozens of states sued Meta on Tuesday, accusing the company of putting profit ahead of the safety of its young users. 

The lawsuit, filed in a California federal court, argues that Meta unlawfully misled the public about the harms its products, like Facebook and Instagram, could impose on children and teens. By implementing a business model meant to maximize time on the platform, Meta contributed to a youth mental health crisis, the complaint says. 

“Over the past decade,” the lawsuit says, “Meta has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans.”

“Meta has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans.”

The complaint alleges that Meta knowingly rolled out features and platform incentives that promote harmful behaviors to young users, including allowing “Likes” on posts and failing to remove content related to disordered eating and bullying.

Meta contested the allegations. “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced more than 30 tools to support teens and their families,” Liza Crenshaw, Meta spokesperson, said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “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.”

“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the complaint says. “It has concealed the ways in which these Platforms exploit and manipulate the most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children. And it has ignored the sweeping damage these Platforms have caused to the mental and physical health of our nation’s youth.”

Lawmakers, like Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), have pointed to Meta, its products, and other social platforms as the driving force behind an ongoing youth mental health crisis in the US. The senators introduced the Kids Online Safety Act in response, a bill that intends to protect kids from seeing harmful content online (civil rights experts have raised concerns over the free speech implications of the bill).