A collection of state attorneys general is looking into Instagram’s effects on children and young adults, claiming that its parent company, Facebook — now known as Meta Platforms — ignored internal research concerning the physical and mental health risks it posed to young people.
A bipartisan group of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont is leading the probe. It comes after a series of damning newspaper reports, the first of which was published by The Wall Street Journal and found that the company was aware of the harms Instagram can cause teenagers, particularly teen girls, in terms of mental health and body image issues, based on the company’s own research.
Since then, a group of news organisations, including The Associated Press, have published their own reports based on leaked information from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has testified before Congress and a British parliamentary committee about what she discovered.
“For far too long, Meta has overlooked the devastation that Instagram is doing on our children’s and teens’ mental health and well-being,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “It’s time to call it quits. We’ve launched this countrywide inquiry to learn more about Meta’s efforts to encourage young Californians to utilise this social media platform – and to see if Meta broke the law in doing so.”
The research focuses on Meta’s tactics for keeping young people on its platforms, as well as the dangers that too much time spent on Instagram might cause.
Meta spokesperson Liza Crenshaw called the allegations “false” and said they show “a deep ignorance of the facts” in a statement.
“While issues in protecting young people online affect the entire business,” Crenshaw said in the statement, “we’ve led the industry in addressing bullying and aiding kids battling with suicide thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders.”
The state probes come after a lawsuit filed by Ohio’s largest public employee pension fund, saying that Meta violated federal securities law by intentionally misleading the public about the harmful effects of its social platforms and the algorithms that power them.
The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System contends that Facebook hid unpleasant information regarding how the business has controlled those algorithms, as well as the efforts it claimed it was doing to safeguard the public, in a complaint filed by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.