Meta accused of 'addictive' content to 'ensnare youth': Is 41-state lawsuit right?


Fact Box

  • Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta on October 28, 2022, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, to “bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.”
  • On October 25, 2023, 41 US states sued Meta regarding “powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens” via a complaint filed in the Oakland, California court. 
  • Zuckerberg claimed that Meta has been prioritizing mental health with Meaningful Social Interactions like more content from friends and family “knowing it would mean people spent less time on Facebook” and Messenger Kids, a safer chatting option for young people. 
  • According to Pew Research, the majority of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 report using social platforms like YouTube (95%), TikTok (66%), Instagram (62%), SnapChat (59%), and Twitter (23%).

Elliot (No)

Meta should not be sued for enthralling youth with its platforms and content. One of America’s cornerstones is the free market. Companies should retrain their freedom to sell a range of different products to consumers. A teen can buy a kitchen knife or a cup of coffee—products that may be addictive or fatal. We allow this because we understand that consumers take on a certain degree of responsibility when they purchase products. Protecting the free market is important; this lawsuit would set a dangerous precedent that the government can interfere with a business' right to conduct its operations successfully. 

No one is forcing youths to use Meta's platform. They consented to its privacy agreements, and they agreed to its use. Youths are also inherently prone to this type of behavior—even before the emergence of social media. We know that teenagers are more vulnerable to addictive activities, and their brain chemistry is not fully formed at such a young age. At the end of the day, it is the parents who must take responsibility for the actions and online activities of their teens—not Meta. They should be aware their children are vulnerable and impressionable, along with the risks/pitfalls of high social media use. 

Parents can easily lock and install usage limitations on phones owned by their teens. They can also remove a teen's phone altogether or give them a primitive 'flip phone' that only allows them to carry out basic functions like calls and texts. Social media platforms are not inherently 'good' or 'bad.' They are blank canvases, tools to be wielded for constructive use or destructive isolation. Meta should not be held responsible for the healthy or unhealthy activities its users engage with in real life, nor should it be held accountable for this. 

Andrew (Yes)

It is widely known that social media companies have deliberately created their products to be addictive. Features such as endless scrolling, likes, and other engagements that trigger dopamine responses are well documented. Further, leaked documents have shown that Facebook’s own research revealed that the product harms children. These social media platforms are the perfect combination of addictive and harmful, particularly to developing adolescent brains. The fact that these companies are knowingly producing products with dangerous and addictive properties and actively working to get more users rather than working to protect consumers means regulators must step in with lawsuits. 

With nearly all metrics correlating with happiness for teens going up, such as increased quality of living, children generally growing up in areas with decreased crime and increased social stability, and other metrics that generally correlate with better happiness, what’s left to evaluate is the meteoric rise of teen social media use, which explains why teen depression and suicide are at such high levels. Studies are repeatedly finding that the use of social media by teens is leading to disrupted sleep patterns, online bullying, and unrealistic expectations. Excessive use of these products has also contributed to increased levels of anxiety and depression that society has never before seen in youth. If any other product on the market created all of these problems for such a vulnerable group of people, we would absolutely expect lawsuits that prioritize consumer protection. If government regulators don’t act, these companies will continue to produce dangerous and addictive products and platforms. Meta produces platforms known to be risky or even outright dangerous, and these lawsuits are designed to help safeguard young consumers not just now but in the future why showing social media giants they cannot act with impunity.

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