Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Meta for knowingly designing and deploying harmful features on Instagram, Facebook and its other social media platforms that are addictive to children and teens. Meta also falsely assured the public that its platforms were safe for young users.
The lawsuit is one of several filed across the nation in state and federal courts. A federal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California was joined by 33 states. Oklahoma is one of eight states filing lawsuits in their own state courts, along with the District of Columbia.
“Meta has fueled the youth mental health crisis we are facing by taking advantage of vulnerable children and teens with unfair and deceptive practices,” Drummond said. “The company has enriched itself by pushing young social media users onto its platforms and then exploiting the vulnerabilities of children and teens to turn a profit.”
The complaint alleges that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its platforms on young people and that instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, the company misled the public about the dangers associated with it. While much of the complaint relies on confidential material not yet available to the public, available sources – including those previously released by former Meta employees – detail that Meta profited by using algorithms that push young users into descending “rabbit holes” to maximize engagement.
Features like push notifications, infinite scroll and the automatic playing of short videos were created with the express goal of hooking young users and keeping them glued to Meta’s platforms. Additionally, these manipulative tactics are engineered to lure children and teens back onto the platform, particularly Instagram, after they log off. About 80 percent of Oklahoma teenagers are monthly users of Instagram, according to Meta.
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 the physical and mental health of young people, including body dissatisfaction, negative social comparisons and undermining their ability to get adequate sleep. The impact of Instagram is particularly devastating for girls, according to Meta’s own research.
But Meta neither disclosed the harm nor made meaningful changes to minimize that damage. Instead, the company claimed its platforms were safe.
According to Meta’s own data, more than 1 million Oklahomans in 2020 were daily users of Instagram, with teenagers accounting for more than 20 percent of that number.
The lawsuit alleges that Meta’s actions violate the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. The complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms caused by these platforms.
The lawsuit can be read here.