Three girls hold cell phones.

More than three dozen states sued Meta on Tuesday over features that plaintiffs say keep kids addicted to the company's social media platforms.

(Photo: Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision via Getty Images)

41 States Sue Meta Over Features That Keep Kids Addicted to Social Media Platforms

"Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits."

The vast majority of U.S. states banded together Tuesday against tech giant Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, in the largest state-led legal challenge against a social media company to date as state attorneys general sought to protect children from features allegedly designed to keep them hooked on the firm's platforms.

Led by Colorado, Tennessee, and Massachusetts, 33 states filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, arguing that Meta has violated consumer protection laws by designing its apps to be addictive to users—including kids—with features such as "infinite scroll" and constant notifications.

Eight other states were joined by Washington, D.C. in filing a separate but similar lawsuit, asking the court for an injunction that would force Meta to stop using the features that the attorneys general say harm young users, based on an extensive investigation.

"Our bipartisan investigation has arrived at a solemn conclusion: Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits," California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, said in a statement. "We refuse to allow Meta to trample on our children's mental and physical health, all to promote its products and increase its profits. We refuse to allow the company to feign ignorance of the harm that's causing. We refuse to let it continue business as usual."

The states are also seeking financial penalties for Meta, which—particularly since former employee Frances Haugen leaked company documents that showed the company knew its products could harm teenagers' mental health in 2021—has claimed it prioritizes safety for kids using Facebook, Instagram, and its other apps. Days after Haugen testified before Congress, the company unveiled new parental controls for its platforms, although children's advocacy groups said its plans for protecting kids lacked detail.

Since 2021, one of the lawsuits filed Tuesday reads, "Meta deceptively represented that the features were not manipulative; that its social media platforms were not designed to promote young users' prolonged and unhealthy engagement with social media; and that Meta had designed and maintained its social media platforms to ensure safe experiences for young users."

"These representations, both express and implied, were false and misleading," the states said.

One former Facebook executive said in 2017 that he would not allow his own children to use the platform, and the Federal Trade Commission concluded in May that the company failed to protect the privacy of children who use its Messenger app.

With the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act still being debated in Congress and civil rights groups warning the legislation could violate children's privacy, the states sued Meta under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and consumer protection laws.

Politico reported that the company is likely to seek a dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment protect Meta from being held liable for content on its platforms.

The lawsuits, however, focus on Meta's alleged deception as it claimed children were safe using its apps.

"Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens," the lawsuit filed by 33 states says of the company, which reported revenues of $116 billion in 2022. "Its motive is profit."

Haugen called the lawsuits, which involve more than 80% of U.S. states, "a giant leap forward in tech accountability."

"Today is history in the making," she said.

Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of the tech safety group Common Sense Media, thanked the attorneys general for "stepping up to stop Meta, which has knowingly misled the public about the serious dangers of Instagram for kids."

"Meta and Instagram cannot be trusted to keep our nation's kids safe," added Zamaan Qureshi, policy adviser for the Real Facebook Oversight Board. "And 41 states say so. This is huge."

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