A bipartisan group of 42 state attorneys general is suing Meta over addictive features targeting children and teens, the state attorneys general announced Tuesday. The support of so many state AGs with different political backgrounds points to a significant legal challenge for Meta’s business.

Meta is now facing multiple lawsuits over the issue in several counties. According to a press release from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, AGs from 33 states filed a federal lawsuit against Meta in the Northern District of California, while 9 additional AGs are filing suit in their own states. In addition to New York, the states that have filed the federal lawsuit include California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

The lawsuits are further evidence that bipartisan state law enforcement agencies are prioritizing protecting children and teens from online harm.

It is also not the first time that a broad coalition of state AGs has come together to take action against Meta. In 2020, 48 states and territories sued the company on antitrust grounds, along with a separate Federal Trade Commission complaint.

Meta designed its Facebook and Instagram products so that young users stay on them longer and keep coming back, the AGs claim. According to the federal complaint, Meta accomplished this through the design of its algorithms, numerous alerts, notifications, and so-called “infinite scroll through” platform feeds. The company also offers features that the AGs claim negatively impact teens’ mental health through social comparison or promoting body dysmorphia, such as likes and photo filters.

The federal lawsuit also accuses Meta of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information from users under the age of 13 without parental consent.

States are seeking an end to what they see as Meta’s harmful practices, as well as penalties and compensation.

Meta is aware of the negative impact its design could have on its young users, the AGs claim.

“Although Meta has publicly denied and downplayed these harmful effects, it cannot credibly claim ignorance,” James’ office wrote in a press release. “Meta’s own internal research documents show that Meta is aware that its products harm young users. In fact, internal studies that Meta commissioned and kept secret until they were leaked by a whistleblower and made public show that Meta has known for years about the serious harm involved Spend platforms.”

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen caused an uproar among lawmakers and parents in 2021 after she leaked the company’s internal documents that revealed internal research into its products. In a series of documents about Instagram’s influence on teenagers, it was found that “32 percent of teenage girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies when they were feeling bad,” the Wall Street Journal reported before Haugen revealed her identity revealed. Following the report, Instagram said it was working on ways to stop users from engaging with negative topics.

“It should have been Meta’s practice to alert people that they were dealing with a dangerous, potentially addictive product before they began using it,” DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb told CNBC in a statement Telephone interview. Schwalb is among the AGs that filed an individual lawsuit against Meta for allegedly violating the county’s consumer protection law.

“We share the Attorney General’s commitment to providing teens with safe and positive online experiences and have already launched over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” Meta spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “We are disappointed that state attorneys general have chosen this path instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps that teens use.”

Some of the practices the AGs for Meta focus on are similar to those of other social media companies, such as developing algorithms to motivate users.

Schwalb said that while he believes Meta isn’t the only company trying to capture users’ attention with its features, “they’re doing it very, very effectively and to the great detriment of millions of young people and tens of thousands of young people here.” .” in the district.”

“All people are prone to FOMO,” Schwalb said, referring to the fear of missing out. “But especially the 12 to 14, 15 and 16 year old children. They are the ones who are really afraid of missing out. It’s all part of the built-in DNA that Meta uses to get people hooked.”

The broad coalition of bipartisan AGs underscores the broad interest of law enforcement on both sides of the aisle in consumer protection issues like this. President Joe Biden also made it a point to discuss the priority of protecting children’s safety and mental health online at the State of the Union.

“I think when you come across an issue like this, it’s a good opportunity for the AGs to come together across party lines [lines] to try to make America a safer place,” Schwalb said.

WATCH: Jim Cramer breaks down his thoughts on Meta’s performance last year

Source : www.cnbc.com

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