EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Meta Platforms, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, are facing a number of legal actions centered around how those apps affect children — and their mental health.
Now, the CEO Mark Zuckerberg is being accused of ignoring or waving protections for teenagers on Facebook and Instagram, according to unsealed documents in a lawsuit by the Massachusetts Attorney General. The AG claims that Meta had unfair and deceptive practices which harmed young users mental health and overall wellbeing.
The newly released documents appear to show that Zuckerberg either stopped or simply disregarded top executives' concerns about the impacts on teens. Supposedly the CEO of Instagram, and the President of Global Affairs both asked Zuckerberg directly to take more steps to protect more than 30 million children across the country who use Instagram.
The documents outline a 2019 proposal to disable "beauty filters" on Instgram, which uses tech to alter how users look on-screen. There have been allegations that this program negatively impacts teen mental health by showing an unrealistic image of the human body.
Zuckerberg allegedly wrote to staff in 2020 saying demand for the beauty filters was high, and he hadn't seen any data suggesting harm by the tech. However, the lawsuit claims many leaders at Instagram had supported this proposal -- and that it was well known.
Other worries about bullying, self-harm and addiction connected to Meta content had been raised by executives in the past, according to allegations launched by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who revealed herself as the source last month.
A total of 42 Attorneys General from both parties have joined the suit, alleging that Meta deliberately exploited vulnerable youth — and violating the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law.
Specifically, the suit claims that Meta knew about the harm, both mental and otherwise, the apps practices caused to teenagers. Especially girls. These practices were designed to increase usage, and profit the company. One noteworthy claim in the AG's suit is that Meta knew of concerns raised internally — and ignored them anyway.
“Meta preys on our young people and has chosen to profit by knowingly targeting and exploiting their vulnerabilities. In doing so, Meta has significantly contributed to the ongoing mental health crisis among our children and teenagers,” said Massachusetts AG Andrea Campbell in a statement earlier this year.
Court filings by the AG claim that Meta knew features and content had negative impacts on younger users -- but did not mitigate these affects -- instead misleading the public about the safety of the platforms.
Meta previously issued a statement to ABC-7 about the lawsuits, which reads “We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced more than 30 tools to support teens and their families. We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”
ABC-7's Be Mindful has been following this case, and other lawsuits tied to social media and mental health. You can find previous coverage about lawsuits involving Meta Platforms, YouTube and TikTok -- and conversations in El Paso school districts -- here.
Avery Martinez covers mental health in the Borderland as part of ABC-7’s Be Mindful initiative. He is also a Report for America corps member. RFA places talented, emerging journalists in newsrooms like ABC-7’s to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.