Meta Accused by Lawsuits of Using a Deliberately Addictive Algorithm

Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has been the subject of eight different lawsuits claiming the company deliberately adjusted its algorithm to hook young people on their social media sites.

Focusing on Instagram in particular, a lawsuit argues that Meta uses the insecurities of teens and young people for profit, making them addicted to stay engaged, causing depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The eight lawsuits come just six months after a mother sued META claiming the social media company played an active role in the suicide of her 11-year-old daughter. In this particular case, the mother said the social media site is designed to hook young users with repeated use, making it extremely difficult to stay connected to real life.

While admitting that Instagram’s terms of service state that children his daughter’s age are too young to use the site, the lawsuit argues that the company has little to no parental controls to help. parents to fight the addictive algorithms Meta uses to keep users engaged. .

“Meta has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design its products to be addictive,” the lawsuit said, “and promotes use that they know will be problematic and very harmful to the mental health of their users”. Meta says the company has developed parental control locks on its website for minors and warns against prolonged use 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 say Instagram-like addictive behavior caused their 19-year-old daughter to develop an eating disorder. The lawsuit alleges that at a young age, the girl became addicted to the app, and soon after began showing signs of “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders and ultimately suicidal thoughts”.

“We did everything we could for her,” Kathleen Spence told Good Morning America. “We provided the help she needed on many levels, and there were times when we were very concerned for her safety.”

The eight lawsuits, filed by a watchdog group known as the Social Media Victims Law Center, file a similar complaint, saying the company was aware of the addictive nature of the social media portal and chose to capitalize on that behavior. to profit from it, rather than seeking to minimize addiction among young users.

The lawsuits cite 2019 congressional testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who testified before Congress that the social media portal was aware of the negative impact of the company’s social media portals on young users and that leaked documents show the platforms had a particularly toxic effect. on adolescent girls. But instead chose profits.

“The defendants knew their products and related services were dangerous to young and impressionable children and adolescents, but they completely ignored their own information,” Beasley Allen’s attorney, Andy Birchfield, said in the statement. “They have implemented sophisticated algorithms designed to encourage frequent access to platforms and prolonged exposure to harmful content.”

More opportunities for legal action

Meta has yet to publicly respond to the lawsuits, which were filed over the weekend, but they could face even more lawsuits if a new law in California takes effect that will give citizens the right to sue companies. of social media.

Assembly Bill AB-2408 was recently passed by the California Assembly, which will allow parents of children under 18 to seek $25,000 for each violation if they can prove that their children have been addicted to specific social media sites including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. These sites were specified because they generate over $100 million in revenue every year. The bill defines addictive behavior as “affecting a person under the age of 18 if they are harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, or materially and want to stop using social media applications but do not can’t because she’s obsessed or has to”. to use them.

If the bill becomes law on January 1, 2023, social media companies will have until April 1 next year to adjust their algorithms to eliminate the use of addictive engagement practices. Some argue, however, that the law will simply cause social media companies to cease operations in California because it would negatively impact the way they conduct business.

“Social media companies and online web services would have no choice but to cease operations for children under the age of 18 and would implement rigorous age verification to ensure that teenagers aren’t using their sites,” said TechNet, a bipartisan network of tech CEOs and CEOs. other executives, in a letter to lawmakers reviewing the bill.

It’s unclear, however, if a company could even manage to effectively monitor its social media products to avoid liability. So at the end of the day, these lawsuits may just be the cost of doing business.

Picture credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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