EDITORIAL: Meta deserves to be sued for practices that harm youth

Oct. 30—Why it matters: Without pressure on Meta to change its ways, our youth's mental health is at risk because of the company's reported predatory practices. {related_content_uuid}5703d3ea-4585-4e85-b61e-51c27c55bdcc{/related_content_uuid}

Minnesota made the right move by joining a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general to file lawsuits last week against Meta for harming the mental health of youth through its social media platforms.

Attorney General Keith Ellison joined the group of 33 attorneys general in suing the parent company of Facebook and Instagram in federal court. Parallel lawsuits have been filed in eight state courts. The suits allege Meta knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addict children and teens.

The action is based on the coalition's investigation, which was preceded by newspaper reports starting with The Wall Street Journal in 2021 based on Meta's own research. Studies revealed the company was aware of the harms Instagram can cause when it comes to teen mental health and body image. One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse. Features such as infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users.

The coalition alleges that instead of Meta taking steps to mitigate the damage to youth, the company misled the public about the harms associated with use of its platforms, concealing the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to use of its platforms. The complaint further alleges Meta knew that young users, including those younger than age 13, were active on the platforms and knowingly collected data from users without parental consent.

The coalition says Meta's business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The lawsuits are an effort to get Meta to change its predatory practices and accept accountability for the damage it is doing to young users. It's not realistic to think people will stop using the platforms in protest of Meta's practices. Adults, as well as youth, have taken the deep dive into relying on the platforms for daily communication and connection. That doesn't, however, mean consumers/users can't voice their dissatisfaction.

More realistically, it will take intense pressure from legal and political forces to curb the powerful company's behavior. This bipartisan effort by the coalition of attorneys general heads in the right direction.