Arizona among 42 states suing Meta for ‘addicting teens to social media’

Arizona and 41 other states are suing Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, claiming the company causes children to get addicted to social media.
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 9:11 AM MST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2023 at 10:33 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) — Arizona is part of a bipartisan group of 33 attorney generals that is suing tech giant Meta. In addition to the 33 states, nine other attorneys general are filing in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 42.

The suit accuses the owner of Facebook and Instagram of purposely addicting children and teens to its social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. On Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of attorneys general filed a federal lawsuit against the social media giant, claiming the company violated consumer protection and federal privacy laws.

“Meta not only ignored the well-being of young users but deliberately misled the public, claiming their platforms were safe,” Mayes said in a statement. “There is a youth mental health crisis in America fueled by social media use, particularly young people’s extensive and compulsive use of Meta’s platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. This ongoing catastrophe has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of our nation’s youth.”

On Your Side reached out to Facebook for comment on Tuesday morning and responded.

The broad-ranging suit is the result of an investigation led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. It follows damning newspaper reports, first by The Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2021, based on Meta’s own research that found that the company knew about the harms Instagram can cause teenagers — especially teen girls — when it comes to mental health and body image issues. One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.

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.

The use of social media among teens is nearly universal in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. Up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly,” according to the Pew Research Center.

To comply with federal regulation, social media companies ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parent’s consent, and many younger kids have social media accounts. Other measures social platforms have taken to address concerns about children’s mental health are also easily circumvented. For instance, TikTok recently introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under 18. But once the limit is reached, minors can simply enter a passcode to keep watching.

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called on tech companies, parents and caregivers to take “immediate action to protect kids now” from the harms of social media.

Riana Alexander is one of millions of teens who struggle with depression in the U.S. The now 18-year-old switched to online schooling in her junior year of high school when she was 16. “I was so frustrated, like, oh my gosh, why can’t I get out of bed and go to school and live this normal life,” she said. “I think it (social media) isolated me even more and added to all the struggles I was going through.”

The doom scroll causes her to constantly compare her looks and unrealistic beauty standards. And she isn’t alone. “About 22 million teens log onto Instagram every single day in the United States,” Mayes said.

Alexander now runs a nonprofit called Arizona Students for Mental Health, where she works in the community and talks with policymakers, parents and students. She is hopeful other kids and teens will face fewer struggles with social media than she did. “If I’m 18 and still struggle with social media and I’m like oh my gosh this is taking a toll on my life I need to take a break then it’s definitely the same for people who are younger because they’re still developing and figuring out their spot in the world,” she said.

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