Delaware has joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general suing Meta in federal and state courts, alleging that the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features that purposefully addict children and teens on Instagram and its other social media platforms.
As it did, Meta falsely assured the public that these features are safe and suitable for young users, said Attorney General Kathy Jennings Tuesday in a press release.
The attorneys general say Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
These practices have harmed and continue to harm the physical and mental health of children and teens and have fueled what the U.S. Surgeon General has deemed a “youth mental health crisis” which has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people, the press release said.
“As the case will reveal, Meta is aware of the unsafe and addictive nature of its products, yet consistently chooses not to implement fundamental safety measures, opting instead to deceive the public. Companies prioritizing profits over the safety of Delawareans will be held accountable, irrespective of their size,” Jennings said.
The complaint, joined by 33 states and filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, on young people.
Instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, it misled the public about the harms associated with use of its platform, concealing the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to use of its platforms.
The complaint further alleges that Meta knew that young users, including those under 13, were active on the platforms, and knowingly collected data from these users without parental consent.
It targeted these young users noting, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, that such a user base was “valuable, but untapped.”
While much of the complaint relies on confidential material that is not yet available to the public, publicly available sources including those previously released by former Meta employees detail that Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to children and teens.
Its platform algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” in an effort to maximize engagement.
Features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users.
The press release said these manipulative tactics continually lure children and teens back onto the platform.
As Aza Raskin , the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, noted to the BBC about the feature’s addictive qualities: “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses . . . you just keep scrolling.”
Meta knew these addictive features undermined their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users, the lawsuit says.
These choices, the complaint alleges, violate Delaware’s consumer protection laws and the federal children’s protection act.
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The complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms caused by these platforms.
In addition to a court order banning Meta from continuing its unlawful and dangerous practices, the Attorney General is also asking the court for monetary restitution on behalf of the tens of thousands of young Delawareans who use Meta’s platforms every day, as well as civil penalties.
“Whether it’s content that promotes self-harm or glorifies crime and violent conduct in our communities, companies must take decisive action to ensure that their websites do not endorse perilous behavior that harms the mental health of its users,” Jennings said.
Nearly all the attorneys general in the country have worked together since 2021 to investigate Meta for providing and promoting its social media platforms to children and young adults while use is associated with physical and mental health harms.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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