Attorney General Neronha joins national bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in suing Meta

 Attorney General Neronha joins national bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in suing Meta
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Today, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha joined 41 other attorneys general throughout the country suing social media company Meta in 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.

The attorneys general 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” which has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of a generation of young people.

“Today in America, our young minds face a mental health crisis fueled by social media use, in particular Meta’s products Facebook and Instagram,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “As alleged, Meta profited from monetizing these platforms and their addictiveness, leading to catastrophic results including suicide, devastated families, and the damaged potential of a generation. Just like Big Tobacco did a generation ago, Meta has chosen to maximize its profits, at the expense of public health and specifically the health of the youngest among us. For that, there must be accountability, and today’s action is the first step in this important fight.”

The federal complaint, joined by 33 states including Rhode Island and filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges 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. Additionally, notifications and features such as infinite scroll were created with the express goal of hooking young users.

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, the complaint alleges, violate state consumer protection laws and COPPA. The federal complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief to rectify the harms caused by these platforms.

In parallel complaints filed in state courts today, eight states have made similar allegations.

These lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by attorneys general of Colorado and Tennessee. Nearly all the attorneys general in the country, including Rhode Island, 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.

The multistate coalition that brought today’s complaint is also investigating TikTok’s conduct on a similar set of concerns. That investigation remains ongoing, and states 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.

States joining Rhode Island in the federal lawsuit are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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