Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing eight new lawsuits after lawyers with the Beasley Allen Law Firm filed a series of complaints this week accusing the company of exploiting young people for profit.
The complaints also accuse Meta of employing additive psychological tactics to get people to use their platforms more frequently and failing to protect young and at-risk users, according to a press release from Beasley Allen.
“The defendants knew that their products and related services were dangerous to young and impressionable children and teens, yet they completely disregarded their own information,” Beasley Allen attorney and Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield said in a Wednesday statement. “They implemented sophisticated algorithms designed to encourage frequent access to the platforms and prolonged exposure to harmful content.”
The lawsuits filed in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas claim that users’ prolonged exposure to Meta and its platforms has led to actual or attempted suicides, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and reduced ability to sleep, among other mental health conditions.
Beasley Allen referenced an Oct. 5, 2021 Senate hearing that included testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who accused Meta of prioritizing profit over attempts to stop public harm.
“Social media use among young people should be viewed as a major contributor to the mental health crisis we face in the country,” Birchfield said. “These applications could have been designed to minimize any potential harm, but instead, a decision was made to aggressively addict adolescents in the name of corporate profits. It’s time for this company to acknowledge the growing concerns around the impact of social media on the mental health and well-being of this most vulnerable portion of our society and alter the algorithms and business objectives that have caused so much damage.”
Prior to the October 2021, hearing, Instagram acknowledged that its app can be harmful for young users after The Wall Street Journal released internal documents summarizing findings by researchers tapped by the tech giant to examine the app’s impact on young users’ mental health over the past three years. The study found that 32% of teen girls who “felt bad about their bodies” said Instagram made the issue worse, according to WSJ.
Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of public policy, said in a September 2021 blog post that the platform stands by the research, which demonstrates the company’s “commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work” Instagram does “to help those experiencing these issues.”
“We’re proud that our app can give voice to those who have been marginalized, that it can help friends and families stay connected from all corners of the world, that it can prompt societal change; but we also know it can be a place where people have negative experiences, as the Journal called out today,” Newton said in the blog post.
Instagram’s head of public policy added that the company is taking steps to combat issues such as bullying, self-harm, suicide and eating disorders as they relate to users. The app has created features so that users can “protect themselves from bullying” and gives users the option to hide the number of “likes” on their posts.
More than 40% of Instagram’s users are under 22 years old, and about 22 million teens use the app every day, WSJ reported, citing Facebook’s documents. A 2018 Pew Research survey that Newton cited in her Tuesday blog post found that 81% of teens ages 13 to 17 found that social media in general makes them feel more connected while 26% said it makes them feel insecure.
Four in 10 teens said they only post on social media so that they look good to other people, and more than half of teens surveyed said they have “unfriended” or “unfollowed” other users due to bullying.
The lawsuits from Beasley Allen are one of many filed against Meta in over the past year accusing the tech company and its platforms of facilitating harm against young users. The various complaints point to a burgeoning mental health crisis among U.S. youth that appears to correlate with the rise of technology and social media.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory in December 2021 warning of a growing youth mental health crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic as many young people spent time away from physical school and activities and more time online.
Early estimates for 2020 show more than 6,600 suicide deaths among U.S. youth, ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Emergency room visits for suicide attempts among adolescent girls, in particular, rose by 51% during the pandemic, and emergency room visits among adolescent boys increased by 4% during the same time period, CDC data shows. Even prior to COVID-19, one in every five U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 17 experienced mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorders, a CDC report shows.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by calling 800-273-8255.
For those who don’t want to speak to a counselor, there’s also a national Crisis Text Line available 24/7 by texting “home” to 741741.