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Social Media And Mental Health: Why US States Have Sued Meta

In the wake of conversations surrounding youth, social media, privacy and mental health, more than three dozen US states have sued Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company. This triggers yet another necessary conversation surrounding Meta's policies and designs surrounding personal data and strategic designs.

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The icon of Instagram app, one of the social media products of Meta.
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Social media is a gratifying loop - one which keeps on giving and constantly delivering for every consumer out there. In this age of post-truth, the impact of social media and its sharp clutches on the cross-section of young users has put social media under an important critical lens. An echo-chamber of opinions, and social media platforms while facilitating the unchecked rise of propaganda, and hate speech have also affected the perception of the youth on various psychological fronts. Besides the physical impacts that the addiction brings with it, the spaces promise unstoppable action and a vision for a life, where another person's activities serve as digital fodder for thousands of young consumers. Beyond the hashtag, the fear of missing out in the vortex is real. And at the same time, it's a protective bubble, where the youth finding it difficult to be heard, feels at home.

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However, in the wake of numerous conversations surrounding mental health and the negative impact that social media spaces have had on young consumers, the issue of people being diagnosed with depression owing to the influence of social media has taken a necessary centre stage. In October 2023, attorney generals from more than three dozen US states filed a federal lawsuit against Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company, accusing the social media giant of designing their platforms to be harmfully addictive to vulnerable users, especially children and teens. The lawsuits claim that Meta engineered tools on their platforms to get children hooked in order to boost profits, and also alleged that Meta routinely collects data on children under 13 without their parents' consent, in violation of federal law. According to them, Meta's practices violate the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), as well as other state consumer protection laws. 

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As reported on CNN, Letitia James, the attorney general for New York, one of the states involved in the federal suit, said, “Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem.” 

The report further mentioned Meta's response to the lawsuit, which read, "We share the attorneys generals’ commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families." The statement further read that Meta is disappointed in the fact that instead of working productively with other companies across the industry to "create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path."

According to the Pew Research Center, up to 95 per cent of youth aged between 13 and 17 in the US report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly”. On the other end, where the space has contributed positively, numerous children have attributed their time on social media to a feeling of settlement and being heard. According to a 2022 report by Common Sense Media on social media’s effects on teens, around half of the 1,500 young people surveyed agreed that social media is important for them in getting support and advice, feeling less alone, and expressing themselves creatively, as well as for staying in touch friends and family members. And 43 per cent said that using social media makes them feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious. Among LGBTQIA+ youth, 52 per cent said social media helps them feel better when they are experiencing these difficult emotions.

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