Connecticut joined 41 other states Tuesday in coordinated litigation accusing Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, of violating state and federal laws with unfair trade practices aimed at hooking customers, especially preteens, on social media.
Attorney General William Tong said Connecticut was one of 33 states participating in a federal lawsuit filed in the northern district of California, home of Meta Platform Inc. Another nine states sued in state courts, all part of what Tong called a “thick blanket” of a coordinated effort aimed at reforming social media.
“Many times over the last five years, I’ve stood right here, and I’ve told you how we’re taking on the addiction crisis that has been driven by opioids and prescription drugs,” Tong said. “Now, we must confront a mental health and addiction crisis that targets children, young people, and to be honest, all of us.”
The 228-page lawsuit comes two years after the Wall Street Journal and others published what became known as the Facebook Files, damning internal documents detailing the company’s indifference to its own research finding that Instagram was addictive and harmful to teens, especially girls.
“Meta has a deep understanding that its applications, particularly when used by young people, can cause significant and extensive harm, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, negative social comparison, body image problems, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, physical self harm, suicidal ideation — and in the worst cases, suicide,” Tong said.
About 22 million teens log onto Instagram daily, a number that Tong allowed most likely includes his teenaged children. Among other complaints, the lawsuit accused Meta of paying only lip service to a federal law that bars the company from collecting data on preteens without parental consent.
“That’s key, that’s core to their business. They try to get kids hooked on social media, and they make money off it,” Tong said. “How do they make money? They have to get kids and kids’ eyeballs on their screens as much as possible. And the more time young users spend on Instagram and Facebook, the more money Meta earns by selling targeted advertising.”
Tong spoke at a press conference in Hartford, a scene repeated across the U.S. by other state attorneys general, a group that has come to rival the federal government with multi-state litigation. The attorneys, especially in filing amicus briefs on divisive issues, often split along the red state-blue state divide. But the Meta litigation announced Tuesday crossed political and geographic lines.
Given that the lawsuit was in the works for at least two years and the state AGs already had been fighting Meta over subpoenaed requests for documents, the announcements and legal filing came as no surprise to the company, which insisted it already was addressing the lawsuit’s concerns.
“We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” Meta said in a statement. “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.”
The lawsuits seek monetary damages and injunctive relief, the latter likely to take shape as state demands for specific changes to how Meta uses algorithms, frequent alerts, notifications and infinite scrolling through its various platform feeds. Tong said the developer of infinite scrolling has called it “behavioral cocaine.”
The federal litigation alleges violations of the state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. In addition to the federal claims, the suit has state-by-state sections alleging violations of its laws.
One section accuses Meta of violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices ACT and other laws with actions that “caused young Connecticut users’ compulsive and unhealthy use of and addiction to Meta’s Social Media Platforms which resulted in mental and physical harms.”
Each violation of Connecticut law is punishable by maximum fines of $5,000.
The attorney generals of Colorado and Tennessee, a Democrat and Republican, are leading the litigation. Tong said he attended a weeklong meeting of 36 attorneys general to map out a litigation strategy against Meta more than two years ago.
He said the effort preceded the publication of the Facebook Files. Six months ago, he reassigned Lauren Bidra, whose speciality was utility regulations, as special counsel for media and technology.
The same multi-state group suing Meta is exploring similar litigation against Tik Tok.