Bipartisan, 33-state coalition sues Meta, alleging harms to youth mental health

(The Center Square) – A broad, bipartisan 33-state coalition has filed a federal lawsuit in California against Meta, which operates Instagram and Facebook, alleging harms to youths’ “mental and physical” health after a nationwide investigation announced in 2021 involving many of the coalition’s member states.

The lawsuit alleges that Meta “designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens” and seeks injunctive and monetary relief.

More specifically, the lawsuit claims Meta has violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which protects the online privacy of children under 13 years old, California’s False Advertising Law, which prohibits false and misleading advertising, and California’s Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices.

“Our bipartisan investigation has arrived at a solemn conclusion: Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” said California Attorney General Bonta in a public statement. “With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line. We must protect our children and we will not back down from this fight. I am grateful for the collaboration of my fellow state attorneys general in standing up for our children and holding Meta accountable.”

The attorneys general claim Meta’s business model is focused on maximizing young users’ time on its platforms, uses “harmful and psychologically manipulative platform features while misleading the public about the safety of those features,” reports “misleadingly low rates of user harms,” and both “conceal[s] and downplay[s] its platforms’ adverse effects.”

“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,” said Meta 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.”

The states that are part of the federal lawsuit filed in California include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Florida filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, and eight additional attorneys general — representing the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont — have filed related actions in their respective state and state-level courts.

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