4 things to know about the Meta lawsuit

Meta was hit with several state-led lawsuits on Tuesday alleging the technology company designed and deployed features on its platforms that are harmful to the mental health of young users.

Here’s four things to know about the lawsuit:

What is the Meta lawsuit?

A group of 32 attorneys general filed a complaint in the Northern District of Columbia accusing Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, of engaging in “deceptive and unfair or unconscionable” that were psychologically or physically harmful to younger users.

Meta is accused of creating business models to “maximize young users’ time and attention and deploying harmful and manipulative features that harm young users,” according to an announcement from the New York state attorney general’s office, which is leading the suit.

These features include “dopamine-manipulating recommendation algorithms,” “likes” on posts that elicit social comparison, “audiovisual and haptic alerts” that draw young users’ attention while at school, “visual filter features known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia,” and “infinite scroll” features “designed to discourage young users’ attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s Platforms.”

The suit claims Meta misrepresented these harmful effects with claims that its platform is “less addictive,” or “less likely” to cause psychological and physical harm for young users. Meta “has continued to deny and downplay these harmful effects to the public and to promote its Platforms as safe for young users,” the suit wrote.

The tech giant is also accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, through its routine collection of data on children under the age 13 without parental consent. Meta allegedly “refuses” to limit its data collection and use of children’s personal information despite the law, the suit said.

Meta did not respond to request for comment from The Hill on Tuesday.

Which states are suing Meta because of Facebook and Instagram?

A total of 41 states and the District of Columbia are suing Meta in connection to its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

The lawsuit led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) represents a bipartisan coalition of 33 states including 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.

A series of separate lawsuits were filed in their own state courts by the attorneys general from Florida, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and the District of Columbia, according to the New York attorney general’s office.

Can I sue Facebook or Instagram for depression?

The suit claims research shows Meta’s social media platforms are associated with “depression, anxiety, insomnia, interference with education and daily life,” and alleges Meta has known for years about the serious harms associated with its features.

The flurry of lawsuits on Tuesday comes amid a rising examination of Meta’s impact on young users from both lawmakers and state leaders alike. Scrutiny came to the forefront in 2021 following testimony and leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who revealed details about the company’s internal research about Instagram’s impact on teens.

While proving a direct connection between mental health problems and social media platforms may be difficult, some law experts argue it’s not impossible.

According to TorHoerman Law, some people with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety may qualify for a “Facebook Mental Health Lawsuit” or “Instagram Mental Health Lawsuit.”

Damages in such lawsuits could include medical treatment costs, therapy costs, pain and suffering and emotional damage, TorHoerman Law said.

Should I stop my children from using Meta products?

Stopping your child’s use of Meta products is a personal choice.

The suit claims Meta doesn’t “even attempt to obtain verifiable parental consent,” and rather relies on Instagram and Facebook’s nominal bans on under-12 users to avert responsibility under COPAA.

On its website, Meta claims child protection is “always a top priority,” pointing to its work with regular child safety hackathons with NGOs and accountability and enforcement reports.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.