A bipartisan group of ten state attorneys general has launched an investigation into Meta, the social media company that used to be known as Facebook, with a focus on the potential harms of its Instagram platform on children and teenagers.
Following extensive reporting on a trove of internal documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen, the announcement was made. Some of the documents show that Instagram can harm young users’ mental health and body image, as well as exacerbate dangerous behaviors like eating disorders, according to the company’s own researchers.
The attorneys general say they’ll investigate whether Meta broke consumer protection laws and “put the public at risk” by continuing to provide and promote Instagram despite knowing about the risks. California, Florida, Kentucky, and Vermont are among the states involved.
“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health — exploiting children in the interest of profit,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is co-leading the investigation, said in a statement. She added that the coalition hopes to “get to the bottom of this company’s engagement with young users, identify any unlawful practices, and end these abuses for good.”
The allegations made by the attorney’s general are false, according to Meta (FB) spokesperson Andy Stone, and they “demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts.” He also mentioned that the company intends to roll out features to help teens manage their Instagram usage, such as a “Take a Break” reminder, which was announced in October amid much controversy.
“While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the statement reads. “We continue to develop parental supervision controls and are exploring ways to provide even more age-appropriate experiences for teens by default.”
The investigation is the most recent escalation of regulatory pressure on Meta as a result of revelations in the leaked internal documents known as the Facebook Papers. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against the company earlier this week, alleging that the company misled the public about its algorithm and the harms its apps can cause to users, resulting in losses for shareholders when the information was revealed. (The suit, according to Meta, is without merit.)
Senator Richard Blumenthal has also requested that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify about Instagram’s effects on children.