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U.S. States Sue Meta for Harming Teenagers' Mental Health

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and 32 other state attorneys general filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday, alleging that Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has been knowingly designing its social media products to be addictive and harmful to children and teenagers.


The lawsuit alleges that Meta has taken advantage of the psychological vulnerabilities of young users to design its products, which has led to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among teenagers. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta has violated federal law by routinely collecting data from children under the age of 13 without parental consent.


"Meta has engaged in a pattern and practice of unfair and deceptive acts and practices that have harmed the mental health of millions of teenagers," the lawsuit states. "Meta has knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms to intentionally create addiction for children and teenagers."


The lawsuit is the culmination of a multi-state investigation into Meta's practices. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal published a series of articles based on internal Meta documents that showed the company was aware of the harm that its products were causing to teenagers.

In one document, a Meta executive wrote that "teenagers are never satisfied when it comes to the 'feel-good' dopamine effect." The document also said that the company's existing products are "already well-suited to delivering stimulation that triggers this potent neurotransmitter."


The lawsuit contends that Meta has exploited these psychological characteristics of young users in order to design its products to be as addictive as possible. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta has used manipulative tactics, such as the "like" button and the "fear of missing out" (FOMO), to keep young users engaged and coming back for more.


"Meta has used its vast resources to exploit the psychological vulnerabilities of young people and create a toxic environment that has harmed millions of teenagers," James said in a statement. "We are taking this action to protect children and hold Meta accountable for its harmful conduct."


Meta has denied the allegations in the lawsuit. In a statement, the company said that it is "committed to providing a safe and positive experience for teens."


The lawsuit is seeking civil penalties of millions of dollars or more. It is also seeking an injunction that would require Meta to change its business practices.


The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges that Meta has faced in recent years. The company is also facing antitrust lawsuits in the United States and Europe.


The outcome of the lawsuit could have a significant impact on Meta's business. If Meta is found liable, it could be forced to pay billions of dollars in damages. It could also be forced to change its business practices, which could make it more difficult for the company to collect data and target advertising to young users.


The lawsuit is also likely to reignite the debate about the role of social media in society. Critics of social media argue that the platforms are addictive and harmful to children and teenagers. Supporters of social media argue that the platforms can be used for good and that it is up to parents to monitor their children's online activity.

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