Tennessee Attorney General Files Unredacted Complaint Against Meta Platforms, Inc.

Company Execs Exposed for Ignoring Data that Showed Danger of Products
Wednesday, January 10, 2024 | 03:09pm

Nashville – Today, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti filed an unredacted copy of an existing lawsuit filed in October 2023 against Meta Platforms, Inc., the company formerly known as Facebook, alleging that its Instagram platform causes mental health harms to its young users.

“The un-redacted complaint makes clear that Meta knew its platforms were hurting kids and made a very clear decision to choose money over the mental health of its young users,” Attorney General Skrmetti said in a statement. “Tennessee law protects kids from companies, big or small, that mislead and hurt them, and we will continue to aggressively enforce that law.”

The Tennessee complaint alleges that Meta knew of the harmful impact of its Instagram platform on young people, including increased levels of depression and anxiety, increased hyperactivity, lack of sleep, and other mental health harms. Instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, Meta misled its users about the harms and concealed the extent of the harms suffered by young users addicted to the use of its platform.

The unredacted complaint reveals allegations including but not limited to the following:

  • Meta studied teens’ brain development to help drive product changes that would make the platform more addictive. That research found that “teen brains are much more sensitive to dopamine, one of the reasons that drug addiction is higher for adolescents and keeps them scrolling and scrolling. And due to the immature brain they have a much harder time stopping even though they want to – our own product foundation research has shown teens are unhappy with the amount of time they spend on our app.”
  • Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened to make available “selfie” filters that mimicked plastic surgery effects, even though Meta’s retained experts overwhelmingly found that those filters had devastating effects on young women. Zuckerberg did this despite the strong urging of employees and other executives, including Instagram’s Head of Public Policy who explained that this platform feature was “actively encouraging young girls into body dysmorphia” and that “the outside academics and experts consulted were nearly unanimous on the harm here.”
  • Meta commissioned research that concluded that “Teens talk of Instagram in terms of an ‘addicts’ narrative’ spending too much time indulging in a compulsive behavior that they know is negative but feel powerless to resist.”
  • Meta long touted its “Time Spent” tools as a way for users (and parents) to manage engagement on Instagram and as a demonstration of Meta’s commitment to well-being. But when Meta learned that its “Time Spent” tools delivered inaccurate data to consumers, Meta refused to sunset those tools—preferring to mislead its users (and parents) than suffer a public-relations hit for rolling back a purported “wellness” feature.
  • Meta’s studies show that Instagram is particularly harmful for young women. As one of many examples, Meta’s own research shows that “Nearly half of teen girls (48%) often or always compare their appearances on [Instagram], and one-third (34%) feel intense pressure to look perfect.”
  • Meta knows that young users regularly experience harmful content on Instagram. For example, among 13–15-year-old users, 13% reported that they had received unwanted advances on Instagram within the last 7 days. 27.2% of users in that age group witnessed bullying within the last 7 days, and 10.8% were the target of bullying on Instagram within the last seven days. 8.4% of that group had seen content relating to self-harm within the last seven days. Meta never disclosed these findings.

Previously publicly available sources, including information from former Meta employees, also detail that Meta purposefully made its platforms addictive to children and teens to capture an ever-increasing amount of their time and data. User time and data fuels Meta’s advertising sales, and thus the complaint alleges that Meta subjected children and teens to the psychological harms associated with the use of Instagram solely for the purpose of increasing the company’s profits.

To read the unredacted complaint, click here.