Attorneys general in 32 states including Connecticut are suing Meta — the company that owns Instagram and Facebook — arguing the social media giant intentionally used harmful features designed to addict young people, Attorney General William Tong said Tuesday.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in California, argues that the company exacerbated a youth mental health crisis and knowingly employed features designed to encourage compulsive use and addiction by young people.
“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the attorneys general wrote in the complaint. “Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms.”
Tong announced the multistate complaint during an early afternoon press conference in Hartford. He told reporters the effort may be the most consequential case he worked on as attorney general.
“Meta uses all of its powers, the constant alerts and notifications, the buzzing and the pinging, the likes and the loves, the infinite scrolling, the clickbait content you just can’t stop looking at,” Tong said. “And just like Big Tobacco, Meta targets millions of American and Connecticut children to addict them, to get them hooked to social media, to sell their addiction to anyone who wants to influence, sell products and make money off our kids.”
The lawsuit alleges the company violated both the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and Connecticut unfair trade practices statutes. The attorneys general are seeking a wide variety of civil penalties including injunctive relief and $5,000 per violation of Connecticut law.
Tong said that Meta was aware that its apps could contribute to a negative outcomes in young people including anxiety, depression, loneliness, body image problems, self harm and in some cases suicide.
In addition to the 33 states which have joined the California-based federal complaint, nine other states — including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — have filed lawsuits in their own state courts.
“We are blanketing this country with state and federal lawsuits to hold Meta accountable,” Tong said. Later, he added, “It is never easy to get Democrats and Republicans across the country rowing in the same direction but unless it is not absolutely clear, the states are unified in this and we are going to go hard after Meta.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment left Tuesday.
The allegations leveled at the company in Tuesday’s lawsuit mirror some of the concerns articulated by lawmakers including U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, who has co-sponsored the Kids Online Safety Act, and Chris Murphy, who introduced the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act to require that minors between 13 and 17 receive parental consent before using social media apps.