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Unsealed lawsuit against Meta claims its platforms 'exploit' children and teens

Newly unredacted portions of a lawsuit filed by dozens of state AGs include damning accusations about the company's practices.

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A growing chorus of voices is speaking out about the dangers that Meta — Facebook and Instagram’s parent company — allegedly poses to young children.?

In 2021, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress that Facebook executives, among other things, ignored the site's harmful impact on young girls and reacted weakly to human traffickers using the platforms.

Former Facebook engineering director Arturo Béjar testified before the Senate earlier this month that the company hadn’t taken adequate measures to protect young people on the platform from harassment. “We can’t trust them with our children," he said of Meta executives in an interview with The Associated Press.

And recently unredacted accusations outlined in a multistate lawsuit against Meta add to the pile-on.?

Last month, a bipartisan group of 33 state attorneys general sued Meta, alleging it designs and uses features "that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment."

Despite Meta officials vowing to disable accounts belonging to users under the age of 13, the company often does not take prompt action — or any action — to remove such accounts, leaving children vulnerable to sexual harassment on the platforms, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint, unsealed in a filing last week, alleges Meta defies the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 by "unlawfully collecting the personal data of its youngest users without their parents’ permission."

"Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms," the lawsuit alleges. "It has concealed the ways in which these Platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children."

Here are just two of the damning allegations:

  • Meta’s knowledge that millions of children under the age of 13 use Instagram is an "open secret that is routinely documented, rigorously analyzed and confirmed, and zealously protected from disclosure to the public," the complaint alleges.
  • Despite stating publicly that children under 13 are not allowed to operate accounts on Instagram, "Meta’s private internal documents reveal that Meta has coveted and pursued the under-13 Instagram user demographic for years," according to the complaint.

In a statement to The New York Times, Meta said it's committed to making online experiences safe for young people and said the complaint “mischaracterizes our work using selective quotes and cherry-picked documents.” The company also said that, while it takes steps to "remove" accounts operated by underage users, verifying users' ages is a “complex” challenge.

Meta isn’t the only social media company to face accusations of posing a danger to children — TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter, have both faced criticism on that front.

Such scrutiny, along with President Joe Biden having addressed children’s social media safety in his State of the Union address earlier this year, gives me some hope that people are becoming more privy to the potentially nefarious people on social media sites. That could mean the ever-elusive federal regulation on this issue may be on the horizon. Fingers crossed.

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