LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Michigan is one of dozens of states suing social media company Meta. The lawsuit alleges Meta contributed to a youth mental health crisis by deliberately designing features that help push children to become addicted to its platforms Facebook and Instagram.
The federal complaint, filed by 33 states altogether in California, claims that Meta routinely collects data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent, in violation of federal law.
The suit seeks financial damages and restitution and an end to Meta’s practices that are in violation of the law.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is one of 42 attorneys general who assert that Meta’s practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
According to a release from Nessel’s office on Tuesday, these practices harm the physical and mental health of children and teenagers and have fueled what the U.S. Surgeon General has deemed a “youth mental health crisis.”
The federal complaint, filed on Tuesday, alleges Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, on young people. Instead of taking the necessary steps to mitigate these harmful effects, the complaint says Meta misled the public about the dangers associated with the use of its platforms, concealing the extent of the psychological impact on young social media users.
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 parents’ consent, and many younger kids have social media accounts.
The states’ complaint says Meta knowingly violated this law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, by collecting data on children without informing and getting permission from their parents.
“Meta has, for some time, been aware of the dangers that ongoing and constant exposure to social media has on young people,” Nessel said in Tuesday’s release. “Documents recently made public show that Meta put its desire to profit from teens’ engagement on its platforms above the physical and mental health of that very impressionable demographic.”
The broad-ranging federal 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, which 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.
Meta responded to the lawsuit and the allegations by saying it shares “the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families.”
“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 company added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.