Virginia’s Attorney General, Jason Miyares, has announced the state’s participation in a lawsuit against social media giant Meta. This legal action, filed in a federal court in California, is a collaborative effort involving 32 states and the District of Columbia. The suit alleges that Meta has been systematically collecting data on children under the age of 13 without obtaining their parents’ consent, a clear violation of federal law. An additional nine state attorneys general are filing individual lawsuits in their respective jurisdictions, bringing the total number of states taking legal action against Meta to 41.
The complaint filed by the attorneys general paints a damning picture of Meta’s actions, accusing the company of using advanced technologies to lure and engage young people, particularly teenagers and children. The driving force behind Meta’s actions, according to the complaint, is profit, and in its relentless pursuit of financial gain, the company has allegedly misled the public about the serious risks associated with its social media platforms. The complaint further alleges that Meta has concealed how its platforms exploit and manipulate their most vulnerable users—teenagers and children.
The legal action seeks financial damages, restitution, and an end to Meta’s practices that are deemed unlawful.
Attorney General Miyares drew a parallel between the legal action against Meta and past battles with tobacco companies. “We now know they used Joe Camel to try to hook young people into cigarette use,” he stated. “Why? Because if I hook you when you’re young, I have a client for at least the next 10 years.”
One suggested solution to the problem, as noted by Miyares, is for Meta to implement age verification measures for its users. However, the company has not yet taken such steps.
Meta responded to the lawsuit with a statement expressing its commitment to providing safe and positive online experiences for teenagers and their families. The company claimed to have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families. In its statement, Meta expressed disappointment that the attorneys general had chosen to pursue legal action rather than working collaboratively with industry companies to establish clear, age-appropriate standards for the use of apps by teenagers.
This multi-state lawsuit is the result of an investigation led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from several states, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. The legal action follows a series of damning reports, beginning with The Wall Street Journal’s exposé in the fall of 2021, which cited Meta’s own research indicating that Instagram could harm teenagers’ mental health and body image, particularly teen girls. A subsequent internal study found that 13.5% of teen girls believed Instagram worsened thoughts of suicide, and 17% believed it exacerbated eating disorders.
The use of social media among teenagers is widespread in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, with almost all U.S. teenagers aged 13 to 17 reporting the use of social media platforms. Social media companies are required to prohibit users under the age of 13 from signing up, as mandated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. However, many children have found ways to bypass these restrictions, both with and without their parents’ consent.
The states’ complaint alleges that Meta knowingly violated this law by collecting data on children without informing and obtaining permission from their parents.
While various social platforms have introduced measures to address concerns about children’s mental health, these efforts have proven easily circumvented. For example, TikTok recently introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under 18, but minors can easily bypass this limit by entering a passcode. TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms, which have also faced scrutiny regarding their impact on youth mental health, are not part of this lawsuit.
Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb did not comment on whether TikTok or Snapchat would face similar scrutiny in the future but noted that the current focus is on Meta, encompassing Facebook and Instagram. He stated, “They’re the worst of the worst when it comes to using technology to addict teenagers to social media, all in the furtherance of putting profits over people.”
In May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called on tech companies, parents, and caregivers to take immediate action to protect kids from the negative impacts of social media.