Bipartisan coalition of attorneys general file lawsuits against Meta for harming youth mental health through its social media platforms

AG Ellison joins 33 bipartisan attorneys general in federal lawsuit; eight more sue in state courts

October 24, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Today, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general throughout the country in suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in both federal and state courts, alleging that the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that purposefully addict children and teens. At the same time, Meta falsely assured the public that these features are safe and suitable for young users.

“It’s my job to protect Minnesotans, especially the most vulnerable. Meta is very intentionally trying to manipulate our children and teens into spending as much time on their platforms as possible, despite knowing this is causing serious harm,” said Attorney General Ellison. “Meta’s efforts to addict our young people and sacrifice their well-being for engagement is disgraceful, predatory, and illegal. I’m joining a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general to hold them accountable for it.”

Attorney General Ellison joined a federal complaint with a total of 33 states that was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Attorney General Ellison and the bipartisan coalition assert that Meta’s business practices violate state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These practices have harmed and continue to harm the physical and mental health of children and teens and have fueled what the U.S. Surgeon General has deemed a “youth mental health crisis” that has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people.

Attorney General Ellison and the coalition further allege that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, on young people. Instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, it misled the public about the harms associated with use of its platform, concealing the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to use of its platforms. The complaint further alleges that Meta knew that young users, including those under 13, were active on the platforms, and knowingly collected data from these users without parental consent. It targeted these young users noting, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article, that such a user base was “valuable, but untapped.”

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. As Aza Raskin, the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, noted to the BBC about the feature’s addictive qualities: “If you don't give your brain time to catch up with your impulses, . . . you just keep scrolling.”

Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm, nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users.

These choices, Attorney General Ellison and the bipartisan coalition allege, violate state consumer protection laws and COPPA. The federal complaint of which Minnesota is a part seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms these platforms caused.

In parallel complaints filed in state courts today, eight states have made similar allegations. Tennessee’s state complaint, for example, is seeking injunctive and monetary relief for Instagram’s unfair and deceptive acts. It alleges that Meta designed Instagram to be addictive, purposefully targeted children and teens, and took advantage of their biologically limited capacity for self-control. Meta knew, the complaint alleges, of the wide range of harms compulsive use caused, including increased levels of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders; altered psychological and neurological development; and reduced sleep. Yet, the company continued to assure the public Instagram was safe and concealed the known significant risks of the platform.

These lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, which Attorney General Ellison announced Minnesota joined in November 2021. Nearly all the attorneys general in the country have worked together since 2021 to investigate Meta for providing and promoting its social media platforms to children and young adults while use is associated with physical and mental health harms. While some states have pursued litigation in state court and others in collective federal action, the attorneys general will continue to work together as the litigation continues.

Attorney General Ellison and the bipartisan, multistate coalition that brought today’s complaint are also investigating TikTok’s conduct on a similar set of concerns. That investigation remains ongoing. Attorney General Ellison’s office and the coalition have pushed for adequate disclosure of information and documents in litigation related to TikTok’s failure to provide adequate discovery in response to requests by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.

Joining Attorney General Ellison in filing today’s federal lawsuit against Meta are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, 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.

Filing lawsuits in their own state courts are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.