Dec 1, 2023 - News

How Washington and other states say Meta knowingly hurt kids

Illustration of Meta’s logo wrapped around a gavel.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Newly unsealed court records reveal specifics of how officials in 33 states — including Washington — think social media giant Meta ignored warnings about how its platforms hurt kids' mental health.

Latest: Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday that the documents show the company disregarded concerns raised by experts and its own employees about how Instagram and Facebook's digital filters and notifications harm teens.

Catch up quick: Washington and 32 other states filed a federal lawsuit in October against Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, alleging the company deployed addictive features that are known to harm children as it sought to maximize profits.

  • But many paragraphs of the 233-page complaint were redacted, as they contained information that Meta had marked as confidential.
  • The company agreed last week to allow many of those details to become public.

Among the newly revealed allegations:

  • The lawsuit alleges Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg vetoed a proposal to ban digital image filters that imitate plastic surgery, despite consultation with "21 independent experts" who warned about potentially "severe impacts" on adolescents and people with eating disorders.
  • An internal Meta document titled "Problematic Facebook Use" stated that "smartphone notifications caused inattention and hyperactivity among teens, and they reduced productivity and well-being," the lawsuit says.
  • Yet other internal documents show Meta pursued a "Teen Growth" strategy that involved "leverag[ing] teens' higher tolerance for notifications to push retention and engagement," per the complaint.

The company also didn't invest in proposed initiatives to boost users' well-being or reduce the harmful effects of its platforms, the states argue.

The other side: Meta didn't reply to specific questions from Axios Thursday about its internal discussions regarding filters and notifications, or its support for mental health initiatives.

  • In October, after the states first filed their lawsuit, the company said in a written statement: "We share the attorneys generals' commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families."
  • "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 added.

What's next: More steps remain in the legal process, including Meta filing a formal response to the state's allegations in court.


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