Meta Facing 8 Lawsuits That Allege Its Addictive Algorithms Harm Young Users

The federal lawsuits claim defective design, negligence and failure to warn, among other claims.

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Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing a slew of lawsuits alleging the company hasn't done enough to prevent psychological harm to its young users and is exploiting them for profit.

The lawsuits filed this week allege that the social media sites deliberately design and use addictive psychological tactics to hook young and vulnerable users, despite "extensive insider knowledge" that their products are causing serious damage to young people's mental health. 

The lawsuits allege that the popular sites are failing to protect young users, and that prolonged exposure to them is causing actual or attempted suicides, self-harm, eating disorders, severe anxiety and depression and issues with sleep -- all in the name of higher profit margins.

"These applications could have been designed to minimize any potential harm, but instead, a decision was made to aggressively addict adolescents in the name of corporate profits," Andy Birchfield, an attorney with Beasley Allen Law, which filed the suits, said in a statement on Wednesday. "The defendants knew that their products and related services were dangerous to young and impressionable children and teens, yet they completely disregarded their own information."

Filed in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, each lawsuit is about 100 pages. The lawsuits allege that Meta failed to warn minors and their parents of the harmful effects of social media usage. Instead, users learned about these harms last year after Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen, who used to be a Facebook product manager leaked internal documents. Some of the internal research Haugen leaked are about the impact of Instagram on teenagers, which The Wall Street Journal published a story about in September. Facebook argued that report misunderstood the results of the research.

The lawsuits point out how Meta designs its products to keep users addicted to their platform. When minors "like" a post, for example, they experience a sense of euphoria, but when they stop using social media, they suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia, according to the lawsuits.

"Meta is further aware that, despite the platforms' adverse impact to teenage users' well-being, the absence of impulse control often renders teens powerless to oppose the platforms' allure," the lawsuits said. 

Meta didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri testified in front of Congress in December about the harm caused by Instagram on young people. At the end of 2021, Mosseri said the company would "rethink what Instagram is." Instagram also released parental controls in March, but it's unclear how many parents are using them.