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North Carolina Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against Meta

According+to+Pew+Research+Center%2C+73%25+of+teens+in+the+ages+of+15-17+use+Instagram.
Amna Ahmad
According to Pew Research Center, 73% of teens in the ages of 15-17 use Instagram.

In a federal lawsuit alongside 41 other states, North Carolina Attorney General Mark Stein filed a lawsuit against social media conglomerate Meta. 

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and other companies, is being accused of misleading the public about the possibly dangerous mental health effects of its platforms. The lawsuit also alleges that it continued to market the platforms while knowing they were harmful, as well as collecting data from children under the age of 13 without parental consent. 

Narmeen Khan, a fourth-year student at Harvard Law School, said this lawsuit is the first of its kind against a large social media platform. “In the past, there’s been legal action taken against social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, but for the first time, we are seeing incredible bipartisan and nationwide action against these companies,” she said. “There are certain laws in some states around the United States that are meant to protect minor safety and well-being, such as Utah and California, but this lawsuit is escalating it to a new level.”

When asked about the legal basis of the lawsuit, Khan said that it is not unusual for federal action to be taken against large companies or industries for public safety and health. “The biggest lawsuit in history was against Big Tobacco and attorney generals from 46 states participated in the settlement. They were able to successfully sue that tobacco companies were lying to the American public about the deadly effects of smoking. I see a parallel here; states believe that social media platforms haven’t been transparent about their harmful effects on people, especially minors.” 

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The lawsuit alleges that features on Instagram such as the infinite scroll, the targeted design of its algorithm, and consistent notifications, are designed to attract and keep young users on its platforms. 

“The amount of time children spend on these platforms is highly concerning. It’s not healthy, and if Meta markets Instagram to children, it should have measures put in place for the safety of these children. Unfortunately, it does not, and hopefully, this lawsuit addresses and solves that issue,” said Khan. 

Meta has been under scrutiny for the effects of its platforms on minors, with many concerned parents saying that it’s caused an increase in mental health issues. Kathleen Bowman, a Cary resident and mother of four, said that she has seen an increase in body dysmorphia and insecurity among many teenagers, especially teenage girls. 

“Instagram is doing a horrible job with protecting children. I mean, if you think about it, the content that teenagers consume on these platforms is incredibly dangerous. I think a lot of insecurity and self-consciousness in teenagers nowadays comes from these apps. There has been a rise of eating disorders and body dysmorphia because the content that these kids are seeing is content that convinces them to feel like they have to look a certain way,” said Bowman. 

Green Hope senior Sabrina Rahimi (‘24) believed that other social media platforms besides Instagram contribute to mental health issues among teenagers. “I don’t necessarily think that Instagram is the whole of the problem, I think it’s all of social media. But I think that because Instagram is such a big name if the lawsuit takes it down, other social media platforms will follow.”

Snapchat Inc., another popular social media platform, has not been included in this lawsuit. However, it has been sued multiple times before by parents who claim that their child’s addiction to the app led to their eventual suicide. 

In a statement released to the public, Meta said they were disappointed with the state’s decision to file a lawsuit. “We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”

Meta has already filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. 

The amount of time children spend on these platforms is highly concerning. It’s not healthy, and if Meta markets Instagram to children, it should have measures put in place for the safety of these children. Unfortunately, it does not, and hopefully, this lawsuit addresses and solves that issue.

— Narmeen Khan, fourth-year Harvard Law School student

This story was originally published on The Green Hope Falcon on November 5, 2023.