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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2023 > AG Yost’s Meta lawsuit: Company harmed young users’ mental health to boost profits

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AG Yost’s Meta lawsuit: Company harmed young users’ mental health to boost profits

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and 32 of his counterparts nationwide have filed a federal lawsuit against Meta alleging that the social-media tech giant designed and deployed harmful features for Facebook and Instagram to addict young users to its platforms and enhance its bottom line.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims that Meta concealed the severity of the psychological harm caused, including addiction to the platforms, which could, and in some cases did, result in physical harm.

“Given that children, when they’re on these platforms, become vulnerable to cyberbullying and online predators, Meta has added insult to injury, further harming our children,” Yost said. “I trust that the parents within Meta itself might reconsider these practices, but, until then, initiating lawsuits should compel the company to change its ways.”

The federal lawsuit asserts that Meta violated state consumer protection laws by assuring the public that the platforms are safe and suitable for young users. Yet the company’s practices harmed and continue to harm the mental and physical health of teenagers and pre-teens, the suit maintains, fueling what the U.S. Surgeon General has called a “youth mental health crisis,” which has prompted suicides, devastated families and damaged a generation of young people.

The complaint further alleges that Meta violated federal law – specifically, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – when the company, aware that users younger than 13 were actively on its platforms, collected data from those users without parental consent. Meta targeted these youngest users after identifying them as a “valuable, but untapped” base, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article.

Meta’s platform algorithms, the lawsuit says, push users into descending “rabbit holes,” with the objective of keeping users on the platform for long periods. Meta also allegedly used features such as infinite scroll and near-constant alerts in a concerted effort to hold young users’ attention. Such manipulative tactics entice teens and tweens to continually return to the platforms. Instead of disclosing the harm and making meaningful changes to minimize it, Meta publicly advertised their platforms as safe for young users.

The attorneys general also allege that the platforms served harmful content – including material associated with eating disorders, violence, negative self-perception and body-image issues, and bullying – to young users.

Simultaneously, the Ohio Legislature passed the Social Media Parental Notification Act, a new law designed to protect Ohio’s children using social-media platforms. The law requires parental approval for children younger than 16 before creating new social-media accounts, ensuring parents receive notifications when their child opens a new social-media account.

Parents will be able to file complaints with the Ohio Attorney General's Office starting January 15, 2024. Stay tuned for more details on the filing process and other pertinent information.