SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has joined law enforcement from 33 states to launch a federal lawsuit against Instagram and Facebook parent company Meta, accusing it of knowingly making its content addictive and harmful to the mental health of children and teens.
“Our children are in crisis, and we need to act,” Raoul said. “The addictive features on Meta’s social media platforms interfere with sleep and education, enable cyberbullying, and contribute to depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and thoughts of self-harm. I believe the action we are taking today against Meta is one of – if not the most – important consumer protection actions my office will take. The consequences will affect an entire generation of young people. I am committed to holding Meta, and any other responsible actors, accountable for putting profits ahead of our children.”
The suit alleges that Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, fueling what the U.S. Surgeon General has called a “youth mental health crisis” that has ended lives, devastated families, and impacted a generation of young people.
In Illinois, nearly a million Illinois teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 access Instagram every month. From 2020 to 2021 in Illinois alone, over half a million Illinois teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 accessed Instagram every day.
Raoul and the coalition allege that Meta designed its social media platforms to include features that exploit young users’ psychological vulnerabilities to keep them using the platforms longer, and that many of these product features are strongly linked to damaging psychological outcomes. The attorneys general allege that Meta is aware of the potential harms its products cause youth, including driving impulsive behavior; interfering with sleep and education; and exacerbating issues young people have with depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and thoughts of self-harm.
The complaint asserts that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms on young people, and instead of taking steps to mitigate them, misled the public on the extent of the danger they presented and concealed the extent of psychological harm suffered by young users addicted to their use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10 and 14. During the decade since Instagram’s rise in popularity, the CDC reported that the number of high school students who experience feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and ideation increased by 40%. In that same time period, there was a 30% increase in the rate of high school girls who attempted suicide.
According to a press release, “While much of the complaint relies on confidential material that is not yet available to the public, publicly available sources including those previously released by former Meta employees detail that Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to children and teens. Its platform algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” in an effort to maximize engagement. Features like infinite scroll and near-constant alerts were created with the express goal of hooking young users. These manipulative tactics continually lure children and teens back onto the platform.”
The states are seeking injunctive and monetary relief for the alleged harm inflicted by Meta’s platforms, including the harvesting of children’s data, and comes as the result of an investigation into the company’s business practices that began in 2021.
The multistate coalition is also investigating TikTok for similar concerns.
Illinois is joining the federal lawsuit along with Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.