November 28th 2023.
According to recently unsealed federal court documents, there are 33 states suing Meta for knowingly keeping accounts of children under 13 open while harvesting their data without parental consent. CNN reported that this could potentially result in millions of dollars in civil penalties due to the fact that Meta has millions of users who are teenagers and children. The states are seeking anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 per violation.
The states are accusing Meta of breaking the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which states that companies cannot collect personal information from children without parental approval. The complaint claims that Meta violated COPPA through both its Facebook and Instagram platforms. It also says that Meta’s own records show that Instagram’s audience composition includes millions of children under the age of 13 and hundreds of thousands of teen users spending more than five hours a day on Instagram.
However, internal documents cited in the lawsuit suggest that Meta was aware of the potentially harmful effects that their platform could have on children. They were reportedly concerned that their ranking algorithms could lead children into “negative spirals and feedback loops that are hard to escape from”. Meta’s own research also indicated that Instagram’s algorithm can amplify “content with a tendency to cause users to feel worse about their body or appearance”.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, allegedly wrote in an internal document that “social comparison is to Instagram [what] election interference is to Facebook”. Meta has not yet responded to the statements allegedly attributed to Mosseri in the internal email. Letitia James, Attorney General for the State of New York, and one of the states suing Meta, said that “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”. She also added that “social media companies, including Meta, have contributed to a national youth mental health crisis and they must be held accountable”.
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