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U.S. states sue Meta for harming young people’s mental health

Meta starts the final stretch of Halloween with this horror story: 41 states and the city of Washington are suing the company in the United States courts. The reason for the lawsuit is the possible problems that the company’s social networks can cause in younger users. In a statement about the case, Meta said that Instagram and Facebook have dozens of tools to protect the mental health of teenagers.

The largest lawsuit, in terms of number of plaintiffs, was filed in the California courts. In this document, 33 states united against Meta’s policies. The new legal battle seems to be a rebound of the accusations of Frances Haugen, the company’s former product manager, who denounced harmful practices carried out by the company in 2021. In the same period, it was revealed that Meta, still under the name Facebook Inc., conducted research that proved the risks of its social networks to the mental health of teenagers.

In the states’ lawsuit against Meta, there is an excerpt in which the plaintiffs claim that the company has altered the psychological and social reality of an entire generation of young Americans. The states further accuse Meta of encouraging toxic behavior by launching features such as “Likes” and failing to remove harmful content from cyberbullying and eating disorders.

A part of these accusations was proven by Meta itself in research on the risk of Instagram to the mental health of young people. For example, in one of the points evaluated with adolescent girls, 32% answered that using social media made them feel worse about their bodies.

In addition, of the 1200 respondents, almost 70% answered that the synonym of mental health is “being happy”. This response, an example of toxic positivity, reflects a problem present not only with adolescents, but in several age groups.

Harmful Networks
The lawsuit accuses Meta of misleading the public about the harmfulness of its social networks and promoting a business model that has led to a mental health crisis — a point that unites the opinion of Democrats and Republicans. Obviously, the behavior of users, especially influencers and their “perfect” lives has an impact on this.

It’s not just the possible billion-dollar fine that will be a headache for Meta. Since Haugen’s plea bargain, governments in several countries and social activists have been pressuring social media companies to take stronger action against more toxic behavior and promote good mental health practices.

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