Ten states have launched a joint investigation into whether Meta — formerly Facebook — broke consumer protection laws by trying to attract kids to its platforms, prosecutors announced on Thursday.
The bipartisan group involves attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health — exploiting children in the interest of profit,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the effort.
The probe will examine the techniques Meta employs to encourage kids to use and engage with its platforms, as well as “the resulting harms caused by such extended engagement,” the attorneys general said.
“When social media platforms treat our children as mere commodities to manipulate for longer screen time engagement and data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys general to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said in a statement.
A company spokesperson pushed back against the allegations.
“These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts. While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the spokesperson said in a statement, pointing to recently introduced features that encourage users to take a break from the app or nudge them away from content seen as negative.
The investigation follows a series of explosive reports that Instagram’s internal research showed the app had a negative effect on teens’ mental health. The revelations led to congressional hearings at which former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen — who had leaked tens of thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal research to the media — accused the internet company of “moral bankruptcy.”
Facebook executives have said its research was misinterpreted and that the vast majority of teens have positive experiences on its platform and Instagram.
In September, Facebook said it would pause a planned Instagram app aimed at children under 13, after pushback from child advocates, parents and lawmakers.
With reporting from the Associated Press.
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