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Meta sued for ‘addictive’ features, causing mental health issues

Gelo Gonzales

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Meta sued for ‘addictive’ features, causing mental health issues

META. People are seen behind a logo of Meta Platforms, during a conference in Mumbai, India, September 20, 2023

Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

'Meta did not disclose that its algorithms were designed to capitalize on young users' dopamine,' the complaint says

MANILA, Philippines – Meta faces a serious lawsuit as 33 US states filed a case on Tuesday, October 24, over claims that its platforms such as Instagram and Facebook had features that the company knew were addictive for young people, while maintaining that they were safe, the New York Times (NYT) reported

The NYT reported that the company had violated consumer protection laws by luring children to the platform, and keeping them hooked, while misleading the public about the potential harms of its allegedly addictive features such as the “infinite scroll” feature, constant alerts and notifications, and its algorithm that pushes users into an endless rabbit hole.

The lawsuit is led by Colorado and California. Nine other states filed a separate lawsuit led by the District of Columbia on similar terms. 

In the 233-page lawsuit, Meta is described to have “designed psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended use” on platforms like Instagram. It also claims that the company had collected underaged users’ data without the consent of parents.

It also said, “Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” with profit being the motive. 

“Meta did not disclose that its algorithms were designed to capitalize on young users’ dopamine responses and create an addictive cycle of engagement,” the complaint said, as reported by Reuters. 

A statement from Meta quoted by the New York Times said it was disappointed that the attorneys general chose to pursue legal action rather than working with the company “productively” to create “age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use.” 

The legal case is the latest development over concerns that Facebook and Instagram have harmful, addictive features – scrutiny for which intensified in September 2021 when then-anonymous whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal documents that showed the company knew that its products and its features cause harm. 

At an October 2021 Senate hearing, Haugen’s statements are similar to a core claim by the new lawsuit about the company knowing the harms and keeping them secret for the sake of profit. Haugen said at the time, “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed.”

Haugen also called for transparency: “As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable.”

Other companies are also facing similar lawsuits relating to harm caused to children by social media apps. Earlier this month, TikTok was sued by Utah, while US schools have brought forth cases as well against TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook. TikTok is also facing a similar investigation, initiated by a group of 40 attorneys general in 2022. –

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.