Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging the parent company of Facebook and Instagram uses “manipulative” features to captivate minors on the social media platforms.
Moody’s lawsuit came on the same day that 33 states filed a similar lawsuit in California against Meta, which defended itself by claiming it had tools in place to protect minors using the platforms. The company also noted “the complexities of mental health” and various challenges youth face outside of social media-related concerns.
Moody’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, alleges that Meta’s platforms “cause serious harm to children, parents and the community at large” by using algorithms and other features designed to Maximize the time minors spend on the apps.
“We have been studying for years the deliberate development of online social media to get kids hooked, get them online, keep them online and then profit from it,” Moody said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.
The 38-page lawsuit alleges that Meta violated a law known as the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, which prohibits “unfair methods of competition, unscrupulous acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of trade.” – or trade practices” prohibits trade.” The lawsuit also alleges that the company violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Moody’s office is seeking an injunction against Meta to prevent future violations of state and federal laws and to impose civil penalties and attorneys’ fees for “willful violations” of Florida law.
The lawsuit details various features that Moody’s office says are designed to “capture the attention of its (Meta) users, bombard them with advertising, and relentlessly mine their interactions for monetizable data.”
For example, the lawsuit points to an “infinite-scroll” design and autoplay features that Moody’s lawyers say are particularly harmful to young people.
“The infinite scroll format makes it difficult for young users to disengage because there is no natural end point for viewing new information,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit argues not only that Meta intentionally made social media addictive, but also that the company deceptively downplayed the negative effects on the mental health of teenagers and other young people.
The lawsuit cites an opinion from a U.S. surgeon general entitled “Social Media and Youth Mental Health.”
“Children and young people are often exposed to extreme, inappropriate and harmful content on social media, and those who spend more than three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to experience poor mental health, including symptoms of depression and anxiety,” a summary of the consultation said.
Another part of the lawsuit alleges “ineffective age restrictions” on meta platforms that do not prevent users under 13 from creating and using social media accounts.
Meanwhile, the 33 other states have joined together in a lawsuit filed with the Federal District of Northern California.
“Meta has leveraged powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage and ultimately captivate teens and teens. His motive is profit, and in an effort to maximize his financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the significant dangers of his social media platforms,” the multi-state lawsuit says.
In a statement to the News Service, Meta denied the allegations in both lawsuits.
“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,” the statement said.
“We are disappointed that state attorneys general chose this path instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps that teens use,” the statement said.
“While we share the Attorney General’s concern about teen mental health trends in the U.S., it is also important to recognize the complexity of mental health and the many issues that teens struggle with in their daily lives, such as income inequality and limited access to public mental health care,” the company said in the email.
However, Moody said social media is “very addictive” for children.
“It’s no surprise to parents that kids can’t avoid their phones. This has been shown to be highly addictive among children in the United States. It has led to mental health problems and sleep disorders,” the attorney general said in the interview.