Youth Mental Health Concerns Prompt Lawsuit Against Instagram

Meta, the company that oversees Instagram and Facebook, faces allegations of misleading the public about the risks of using social media and contributing to a mental health crisis among youth.

Dozens of US states claimed in a federal lawsuit that Meta used addictive features to “ensnare” users while concealing the “substantial dangers” of its platforms, The Guardian reports.

Meta Under Legal Fire

The lawsuit accused Meta of breaking consumer protection laws by engaging in “deceptive” conduct.

Meta said it was “disappointed”.

The lawsuit proceeded to say that Meta collected data on children under the age of 13, flouting its obligations under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of 33 attorneys general who signed the lawsuit, said: “Social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable”.

Another nine states also made similar claims in lawsuits of their own.

Reactions to the Lawsuit

Opposing the accusations, a spokesperson for Meta said the company shared the commitment of the attorneys general to “providing teens with safe, positive experiences online” and had “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 spokesperson added.

Though Meta, as well as several other social media companies, already face hundreds of lawsuits in the US filed by families, young people and school districts over the impact on mental health, this latest lawsuit marks the biggest action to date.

It follows an investigation into Meta’s practices in 2021 by several state prosecutors after Frances Haugen testified in the US that the company knew its products could harm children.

Nonetheless, Meta continues to contest that its platform is damaging to young people’s mental health.

Pratiti Raychoudhury, vice president and head of research at Meta said, “It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is “toxic” for teen girls”, at the time of Ms Haugen’s accusation.

“The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced”, Ms Raychoudhury said.

Understanding Social Media and Mental Health

While plenty of lawsuits and accusations have been made against Meta, there are studies that do indeed suggest that Facebook’s growth is not linked to psychological harm.

Nonetheless, such research does little to quell the concerns over the connection between social media and mental health, particularly among young people.

Abundant research indicates that extended periods spent on social media can significantly harm the mental well-being of young individuals.

In the UK, a coroner investigating the tragic passing of Molly Russell attributed her demise to the ‘adverse effects of online content.’

Following this latest legal action, the states aim to secure financial compensation and an end to what they perceive as harmful practices by Meta.

While substantial portions of the lawsuit remain confidential, it explicitly identifies features such as likes, alerts, and filters, alleging that they are “known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia”. Body dysmorphia causes individuals to excessively fixate on perceived flaws in their appearance, which are often imperceptible to others.

“Meta’s design choices and practices take advantage of and contribute to young users’ susceptibility to addiction,” the lawsuit said.