In recent years, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has come under scrutiny for allegedly engineering its social media platforms to hook kids and teenagers, keeping them engaged for as long as possible to collect personal data and sell it to advertisers. State prosecutors from 33 states filed a federal lawsuit against Meta in October, accusing the company of using manipulative algorithms and technological tools to harm young users. In this article, we will delve into the details of the lawsuit, exploring the allegations, the impact on young users, and Meta’s response to the accusations.
Allegations of Manipulative Algorithms and Harm to Young Users
The recently unsealed complaint filed by the attorneys general reveals the specific allegations made against Meta. The state prosecutors claim that Meta deliberately deployed highly manipulative algorithms and technological tools on Facebook and Instagram to attract and sustain engagement among young users. By doing so, Meta collected personal information for advertisers, even from children without parental consent, which is a legal requirement. The attorneys general argue that the compulsive use of Facebook and Instagram by teens and children can cause physical and mental harm, as stated in the 233-page complaint.
To build their case, the state prosecutors gathered evidence from snippets of emails, earnings call transcripts, and other internal communications, highlighting the value of young users’ personal information and time to company profits. The complaint alleges that Meta’s business strategy revolves around increasing “time spent” on their platforms. The longer users stay engaged with posts, pictures, videos, and other content, the more personal data the company can collect for targeted advertising. This, in turn, drives Meta’s revenue generation.
The Role of Recommendation Algorithms
One of the key tools Meta allegedly uses to keep users on its social media platforms is recommendation algorithms. These algorithms function on a user-by-user basis, detecting the content that each individual is likely to engage with and then displaying similar material to maximize the time spent and user data collected. It is important to note that these algorithms do not promote any specific message by Meta but rather aim to increase engagement and data collection.
Violation of Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule
The attorneys general assert that Meta collects personal data on all Facebook and Instagram users, including those who are under the age of consent, without obtaining parental consent as required by the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule of 1998. The lawsuit claims that Meta violates this rule by collecting data from users aged 13 or younger without proper consent. In response, Meta states that no one under the age of 13 is allowed to have an account on Instagram, and they delete accounts of underage users whenever they are identified. However, verifying the age of individuals online poses a challenge, especially for those without identification documents.
Impact on Young Children and Whistleblower Revelations
The issue of how Meta platforms impact young children gained significant attention in 2021 when a former Meta employee, Frances Haugen, shared internal documents revealing the negative effects of Instagram on certain teenage girls. Haugen’s disclosures included data suggesting that Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and eating disorders among certain demographics of teenage girls. These revelations have further fueled concerns about the potential harm caused by social media platforms, especially among vulnerable users.
State Prosecutors and Meta’s Responses
California Attorney General Rob Bonta alleges that Meta knowingly engages in practices that are detrimental to children. The unredacted federal complaint strengthens this claim, providing evidence of Meta’s awareness of the negative impact of their platforms. However, Meta, in response to the lawsuit, expressed disappointment with the attorneys general’s approach, stating that they are dedicated to providing teens with safe and positive experiences online. The company also highlighted the introduction of over 30 tools aimed at supporting teens and their families.
The Road Ahead: Legislation and Regulation
In light of the allegations against Meta and the wider concerns surrounding social media platforms, there is a growing call for legislation and regulation to ensure the protection of young users. The lawsuit filed by the attorneys general is just one step towards addressing these issues. Meta has expressed support for federal legislation that would require app stores to obtain parental approval for the download of apps by teens under the age of 16. However, the challenge of verifying age online remains a complex issue that needs to be addressed.
See first source: CBS News
What are the allegations made against Meta in the federal lawsuit?
The state prosecutors from 33 states have accused Meta of using manipulative algorithms and technological tools on Facebook and Instagram to engage young users and collect their personal information for advertisers. The lawsuit alleges that Meta’s actions harm young users, including children, by encouraging compulsive use of their platforms, leading to physical and mental harm.
How did the state prosecutors gather evidence for the lawsuit?
The state prosecutors gathered evidence from snippets of emails, earnings call transcripts, and other internal communications. These documents highlighted Meta’s focus on increasing “time spent” on their platforms to maximize user data collection and revenue generation.
What role do recommendation algorithms play in Meta’s alleged actions?
Meta is accused of using recommendation algorithms to keep users engaged on its platforms. These algorithms identify content that each user is likely to engage with and display similar material to maximize user engagement and data collection. The goal is to increase the time users spend on the platforms.
How does Meta allegedly violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule?
The lawsuit alleges that Meta violates the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule by collecting personal data from users under the age of consent, specifically those aged 13 or younger, without obtaining parental consent, which is required by the rule. Meta claims to delete accounts of underage users when identified, but verifying the age of online users, especially those without identification documents, is challenging.
What impact on young children did Frances Haugen’s revelations highlight?
Frances Haugen, a former Meta employee, revealed internal documents suggesting that Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and eating disorders among certain teenage girls. These disclosures raised concerns about the potential harm caused by social media platforms, especially among vulnerable users.
How has Meta responded to the lawsuit?
Meta expressed disappointment with the attorneys general’s approach and stated that they are committed to providing safe and positive online experiences for teens. The company highlighted the introduction of over 30 tools aimed at supporting teens and their families.
What is the road ahead regarding legislation and regulation in response to these issues?
There is a growing call for legislation and regulation to protect young users on social media platforms. Meta has expressed support for federal legislation that would require app stores to obtain parental approval for the download of apps by teens under the age of 16. However, the challenge of verifying age online remains a complex issue that needs to be addressed.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Dima Solomin; Unsplash – Thank you!