Va. joins 32 states suing Meta over allegations its social media platforms harm youth

The lawsuit alleges that Meta knew about the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to its platforms

By: - October 24, 2023 5:24 pm

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that the state would join 32 others in suing Meta and alleged that the company’s social media sites knowingly harm youth. (Meghan McIntyre/The Virginia Mercury)

Today, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced the commonwealth is joining 32 other states in a federal lawsuit against Meta over allegations its social media platforms are purposely harmful to children.

The lawsuit alleges that Meta knew about the extent of the psychological and health harms suffered by young users addicted to its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, but falsely assured the public they are safe and suitable for children and teens. 

It also claims Meta’s business model exploits and monetizes young users through data harvesting and targeted ads by designing purposely-addictive platform features. 

The suit alleges features such as auto-play, algorithms and near-constant alerts were knowingly created with the express goal of hooking children and teens into descending “rabbit holes.” In turn, the suit claims young users can be exposed to harmful content such as suicide and self-harm content, hate speech and misinformation. 

The suit claims Meta also has a “deep understanding” of the significant and extensive harms to young people associated with addiction and compulsive use of the platforms, including depression, eating disorders, physical self-harm and suicidal ideation. 

Miyares compared Meta to big tobacco companies advertising to children, pointing to the Joe Camel cartoon as a way to hook young people on cigarettes. 

“At the expense of public health and specifically the health of our youth, they’ve exploited the vulnerability of our young children and the fundamental desire for connection for their own personal gain,” Miyares said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Additionally, the suit alleges Meta is well aware that kids under the age of 13 are on their platform, but still collects data from these children without first obtaining verifiable parental consent as required by the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. 

Miyares said that Meta could obtain parental consent using age verification technologies, like uploading a drivers license or official government identification. When asked about the potential for data breaches seen in states requiring third-party age verification methods to access pornographic websites, Miyares reiterated the technology is a great first step to protecting children.

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“Let’s try to protect our kids, let’s try to protect their innocence and let’s make sure parents are involved and parents matter,” Miyares said. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has previously expressed similar concerns that parents need to be more involved in efforts to mitigate the impact of social media on children and teenagers.

Youngkin proposed an amendment to Virginia’s pornographic website age verification law that would have extended the age of children who require parental consent for social media accounts from under 13 to under 18. The Senate narrowly rejected the proposal. 

At a “Parents Matter” town hall this August, Youngkin heavily emphasized the importance of parents’ involvement in their child’s social media life.

Miyares said he hopes Meta complies with consumer protection laws and prioritizes the safety of children moving forward, and if not, he isn’t afraid of the fight. 

“We would welcome the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about how they could change their platforms to better protect our children and our teens,” Miyares said. “You chose to fight us, we’ll see you in court.”

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Meghan McIntyre

Meghan McIntyre is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in print and online journalism. She received a faculty award for her stories covering Virginia government and politics, which were published in various outlets across the state through the Capital News Service course in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at VCU. She was also a previous news intern at VPM and briefly freelanced for The Farmville Herald and The Suffolk News-Herald.