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Instagram Faces More Allegations That It's 'Addictive' and 'Harmful'

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Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing app owned by Facebook's parent company Meta.
Sarah Tew/CNET

What's happening

Two new lawsuits were filed against Instagram's parent company, Meta, alleging that the service harms mental health, especially among teens and children.

Why it matters

Meta has been facing more pressure to tackle this problem after a Facebook whistleblower leaked internal research about the company.

If you're struggling with negative thoughts or suicidal feelings, resources are available to help. In the UScall the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; in the UK, call the Samaritans at 116 123; and in Australia, call Lifeline at 13 11 14. Additionally, you can find help at these 13 suicide and crisis intervention hotlines.

Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing app owned by Facebook's parent company Meta, is facing more allegations that its platform causes harmful mental health effects, including depression, eating disorders and suicide attempts. 

Two families from Kentucky, represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center, filed a pair of lawsuits on Monday against Meta in a federal court in Northern California. Both lawsuits accuse the social media giant of prioritizing user engagement over safety and creating a "perfect storm of addiction, social comparison, and exposure to incredibly harmful content and product features."

"Despite knowledge of the dangerous and harmful characteristics of its product, Meta has made and continues to make calculated cost-benefit business decisions and is consistently prioritizing their already astronomical profits over human life," the lawsuits said.

The lawsuits are the latest complaints against Instagram after Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, leaked internal research, including about the harmful impacts the app could have on teen girls. The lawsuits cite some of those documents. 

Meta declined to provide a statement on the lawsuit, but pointed to the steps it's taken to address mental health concerns, including sharing resources for people with eating disorders. Last year, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri testified before Congress for the first time about the topic and said he was committed to keeping users safe. The company released new parental controls in March, started testing different types of feeds, including a chronological one, and introduced a new way to verify that users are at least 13 years old.

All of those steps haven't appeased Instagram's critics, who say the platform isn't doing enough to combat any potentially harmful mental health impacts. Both lawsuits allege Meta conducted fraudulent business practices, accusing the company of lying to Congress and the public about the harmful effects of its products. Instagram exposed two of the plaintiffs, who were 12 when they joined the app, to eating disorder content and made them think they weren't good enough, according to the lawsuits. Both girls attempted suicide, and one had to use a feeding tube because she kept refusing to eat while hospitalized. 

Reuters, which earlier reported on the lawsuits, said that Meta faces at least nine other lawsuits that accuse the company of harming the mental health of minors.