Meta Accused by Lawsuits of Using a Deliberately Addictive Algorithm
Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has been served with eight different lawsuits that contend the company deliberately adjusted its algorithm to hook young people.
Focusing on Instagram in particular, one lawsuit contends that Meta is using the insecurities of teens and young people for profit by addicting them to remain engaged and causing depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
The eight lawsuits come just six months after a mother sued Meta for allegedly playing an active part in her 11-year-old daughter’s suicide. In that particular case, the mother said that the social media site is designed to hook younger users into repeated use, making it extremely difficult to stay connected to real life.
While admitting that Instagram’s terms of service state that children the age of her daughter are too young to be using the site, the lawsuit contends that the company has little to no parental controls to help parents combat the addictive algorithms that Meta uses to keep users engaged.
“Meta has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design their products to be addictive,” the lawsuit stated, “and encourages use they know will be problematic and highly detrimental to their users’ mental health.” Meta says that the company has developed parental control locks on its website for minors and warns against prolonged usage of its products at a young age.
One of the recent lawsuits takes the addiction argument even further. Parents of a 19-year-old woman state that similar addictive behavior to Instagram, caused their 19-year-old daughter to develop an eating disorder. The lawsuit contends that at a young age, the girl became addicted to the app, and shortly thereafter, she began to exhibit signs of “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation.”
“We did everything we possibly could for her,” stated Kathleen Spence to Good Morning America. “We got her the help that she needed on multiple levels, and there were times when we were very concerned for her safety.”
The eight lawsuits brought about by a watchdog group known as the Social Media Victims Law Center, make a similar complaint, stating that the company was aware of the addictive nature of the social media portal, and chose to leverage the behavior in order to profit, rather than seek to minimize the addiction in younger users.
The lawsuits cite a 2021 congressional testimony by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who said that the social media giant was aware of the negative impact the platforms have on young users and that leaked documents show that the platforms had a particularly toxic effect on teenage girls, but chose profits, instead.
“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,” said Beasley Allen attorney Andy Birchfield in the statement. “They implemented sophisticated algorithms designed to encourage frequent access to the platforms and prolonged exposure to harmful content.”
More Scope for Legal Action
Meta has yet to respond publicly to the lawsuits, which were served over the weekend, but they may have their hands full with even more legal action should a new law in California go into effect that will give citizens the right to sue social media companies.
Assembly Bill AB-2408 was passed by the California Assembly recently, which will allow parents of children under 18 to seek $25,000 for each violation if they can prove their children have been addicted to specific social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Those sites have been specified since they make over $100 million in revenues every year. The bill defines addictive behavior as “affecting a person under 18 years of age if they are harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, or materially and who want to stop using social media apps but can’t because they are obsessed with or feel compelled to use them.”
Should the bill become law on January 1, 2023, social media companies will have until April 1st of next year to adjust their algorithms to eliminate reliance on addictive engagement practices. Some argue, however, that the law will simply prompt social media companies to cease operations in California since it would have a negative impact on how they conduct their business.
“Social media companies and online web services would have no choice but to cease operations for kids under 18 and would implement stringent age-verification in order to ensure that adolescents did not use their sites,” stated TechNet, a bipartisan network of tech CEOs and other executives, in a letter to lawmakers considering the bill.
It’s unclear, however, if a company could even manage to police their social media products that effectively in order to avoid liability. So at the end of the day, these lawsuits may just be the cost of doing business.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.