Meta Faces Legal Barrage: States Sue Over ‘Addictive’ Features Impacting Teens
The legal powerhouse behind Meta has been working overtime as more than three dozen states launch a legal offensive against the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. Their allegations center on the deep concerns that Meta’s platforms, with their “addictive” features, are adversely affecting the mental health of teenagers.
In a significant federal lawsuit filed in California, 33 attorneys general assert that Meta’s products have inflicted harm on minors and have contributed to an alarming mental health crisis across the United States. This legal onslaught didn’t stop at the federal level; eight additional state attorneys general filed lawsuits against Meta in their respective state courts, leveling similar claims. Furthermore, the state of Florida initiated its own federal lawsuit, alleging that the company misled users about potential health risks.
The sheer volume of lawsuits launched in a single day is nothing short of extraordinary, underscoring the gravity of the situation. This multifaceted legal attack is the culmination of a bipartisan investigation dating back to 2021. The investigation gained momentum after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen brought forth internal documents suggesting that Meta was aware of the negative impacts of its products on young people’s mental health, particularly among girls.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti highlighted the key issue: “We know that there were decisions … to make the product more and more addictive. Our desire is to see the company rectify this situation, ensuring that they refrain from capitalizing on these vulnerabilities in our children.” In reply, Meta reaffirmed their joint dedication to the cause to teen safety online and pointed out that it has already introduced tools aimed at enhancing user well-being. The company expressed disappointment that the attorneys general had chosen a litigious path rather than collaborating with the industry to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for apps commonly used by teenagers.
The federal complaint filed in California seeks court orders to prevent Meta from violating the law, with many states also demanding unspecified financial penalties.
The Bigger Picture
This legal assault unfolds within the context of a broader reckoning with Big Tech. Policymakers are coming to terms with the dark side of the internet and social media, with a growing recognition of the challenges posed by the unregulated dissemination of content. The battle against the Metas and Googles of the tech world has gained momentum in response to extensive lobbying efforts that previously shielded these giants from significant regulation.
The turning point came when Frances Haugen, via the Wall Street Journal, unveiled Meta’s internal research on the impact of social media on the mental health of vulnerable teens. Although these vulnerable teens represented a minority of users, the revelations spurred a united front among many states, signaling a collective concern for online health risks akin to the opposition to cigarette ads targeting young people in decades past.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser drew parallels to Big Tobacco and vaping companies that prioritized profits over public health, thereby harming the health of the youngest in society.
Meta is not alone in facing legal challenges. Later this week, a federal judge in California will consider similar allegations against the broader tech industry. Lawyers representing Google, Meta, Snap, and TikTok will urge the judge to dismiss nearly 200 complaints from plaintiffs who claim that these companies are addicting or harming their customers.
The outcome of these legal battles holds significant implications for the tech industry. The spotlight is on Silicon Valley lawyers as they navigate the complex terrain of these high-stakes cases.
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