Oct 24, 2023 - News

NC's Josh Stein explains why attorneys general are suing Meta over Instagram

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein speaks in front of the US Supreme Court in 2022. Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

A group of attorneys general including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Meta alleging its social media platforms are harmful to young people and designed to be addictive.

Why it matters: The lawsuit's goal is to change the way two of the most popular social media platforms operate, Stein told Axios.

  • And with dozens of attorneys general from both sides of the aisle joining, it is one of the most significant legal efforts filed against Meta.
  • "Facebook has spent untold billions of dollars ... figuring out how to design this to maximize its addictiveness, and we want them to change the parts of the platform that serve to be addictive," Stein said, noting features like infinite scrolling and how content is suggested to teens.

Catch up quick: The attorneys general began investigating Meta in 2021, after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed Meta knew through internal research that Instagram could have bad effects on users.

Details: The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California — alleges that Instagram and Facebook addict young users through alerts and notifications, infinite scrolling and the design of its algorithms.

  • Time spent on the platforms harms young people's mental health, the lawsuit alleges, by exacerbating social comparisons through like counts and body dysmorphia through visual filters.
  • It also accuses the company of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting personal data on users under 13 without parental consent.

The other side: A spokesperson for Meta told Axios that the company has already introduced several new tools, like parental supervision settings and reminding teens to take online breaks, to improve its sites for young users.

  • The company also said it would like to see industry-wide guidelines that apply to all social media platforms.
  • "We're disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path," the company said in a statement.

What they're saying: Stein agreed there should be broader regulations on social media platforms.

  • "It's important that companies that are out in the market not exploit children," he said, "and when they do, we will go after them."
  • "But I think that we as a country would be well served if there were industry-wide rules protecting kids ... not only for Instagram, not only for TikTok, but for Snapchat and for whatever new platform exists three years from now."

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