In context: Facebook has often been criticized for not doing enough to fight online bullying and harassment, especially against young children and vulnerable individuals. While the company has steadfastly maintained that it does everything in its power to make its platform safe for kids, critics and child rights advocates remain unconvinced.
The attorneys general of dozens of U.S. states are seemingly in agreement with the critics, and have now bandied together to sue Facebook's parent company Meta over allegations that it has "profited from children's pain." A joint lawsuit filed by 33 states in a federal court in California on October 24 alleges that Meta has consistently put profits over business ethics and misled the public about the "substantial dangers of its social media platforms."
The lawsuit further accused Meta of harnessing "powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens" without any regard for their online safety or mental well-being. It also claimed that the company exploited its young and impressionable users by creating a business model designed to make them spend as much time on the platform as possible without any regard for their mental health.
The lawsuit alleges that Meta knowingly aided and abetted children's social media addiction to benefit Facebook and Instagram, despite knowing that teenage users' need for online approval from their peers in the form of 'likes' could potentially jeopardize their safety and security. According to the lawsuit, "Meta did not disclose that its algorithms were designed to capitalize on young users' dopamine responses and create an addictive cycle of engagement."
In addition to the complaints regarding Meta's disregard for its users' mental health, the lawsuit alleges that the company violated a law banning the collection of data on kids under the age of 13. The states are seeking substantial civil penalties and several changes to the way Meta operates, especially when it comes to handling children's accounts and their data.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, Meta released a statement, saying it was disappointed that the attorneys general chose to litigate the issue instead of seeking industry-wide solutions. The company also claimed that it has developed "over 30 tools" on its various platforms to support young users and make it easier for parents keep an eye on their social media activities.
In addition to the aforementioned lawsuit, eight additional states and Washington D.C. are suing Meta in local courts over similar complaints. The legal actions are the result of an investigation by attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont following the whistleblower revelations by Frances Haugen in 2021.