A coalition of more than 30 states has taken legal action against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
In a federal lawsuit filed in a San Francisco court, 33 state attorneys general allege that Meta’s platforms, including their apps, are intentionally designed to be addictive and harm children’s mental health.
The lawsuit contends that Meta violated federal children’s online privacy and state consumer protection laws, accusing the company of creating addictive products and misleading the public about the harm these products inflict on children.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, eight state attorneys general and the District of Columbia have initiated separate cases in their respective state courts, targeting Meta’s practices as violations of state consumer protection laws.
In total, 42 states, along with the District of Columbia, have filed lawsuits at both the federal and state levels in a coordinated effort to hold Meta accountable for its actions.
The outcome of these lawsuits could significantly impact how Meta designs and markets its platforms.
If successful, the legal action may result in substantial fines and compel Meta to reevaluate its practices.
This legal approach has drawn comparisons to the lawsuits against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, which led to significant financial penalties and altered how it promotes its products.
State attorneys general from both political parties have united in this effort, emphasizing the seriousness of the issue.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who leads the federal lawsuit, noted the bipartisan support among the attorneys general.
He underscored the need to address the problem collectively, highlighting the far-reaching impact of the issue.
The federal lawsuit alleges that Meta deceived users by making false claims about the non-manipulative nature of its features and the safety of its products for children.
These lawsuits are crafted to work around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields platforms from liability for most user-generated content. Instead, they focus on Meta’s alleged deception regarding children’s safety on its apps.
Meta Counters Lawsuits with Safety Enhancement Efforts
Meta has pushed back against the lawsuits, emphasizing its efforts to enhance children’s safety by implementing over 30 design changes across its products.
The company expressed disappointment that state attorneys general have chosen litigation over collaboration in establishing clear, age-appropriate standards for apps used by teenagers.
This legal action is the most significant state-led challenge against a social media company, alleging violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and consumer protection laws. It follows a similar strategy to previous state consumer protection lawsuits against TikTok.
The lawsuit asserts that Meta has “actual knowledge” of children under 13 using its services, including Facebook and Instagram, without obtaining parental consent, as required by COPPA, a federal law enacted in 1998. While Meta has a policy against users under 13, the lawsuit claims the company fails to enforce this restriction effectively.
The states seek substantial changes to Meta’s platforms. Suggestions include limiting the time and frequency that young individuals can spend on the apps and altering how algorithms present content.
The attorney general is open to dialogue with Meta on these changes but notes that legal action will be pursued if the company does not cooperate.
With Congress failing to pass legislation to update COPPA or introduce new protections, these lawsuits signal a shift toward using state consumer protection laws to hold social media companies accountable.
The legal challenges come when public opinion and governmental scrutiny have grown, with President Joe Biden and the U.S. Surgeon General advocating for kids’ safety and privacy bills.
The multi-state lawsuit resulted from an investigation prompted by Frances Haugen, a former Meta employee turned whistleblower.
Her testimony before Congress highlighted Meta’s knowledge of promoting unhealthy content to teenage girls through its algorithms.
Haugen praised the state attorney general for taking action when federal legislation has lagged.
Meta is expected to defend itself using Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and First Amendment claims.
However, the state attorneys general are determined to press forward, confident in the strength of their cases.
While litigation progresses, advocates emphasize the importance of legislation addressing the issue comprehensively.
They argue that litigation is not a substitute for legislative action and that it’s time for Congress to establish regulations prioritizing child safety and holding tech platforms accountable.