KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Attorney General filed a civil lawsuit on Tuesday, claiming that Meta, the media company that owns Facebook and Instagram, engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that harmed children’s mental health and misled parents about the risks their children would face while using the app.
Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office shared the 406-page document that was filed on Tuesday. The main lawsuit detailing the allegations against Meta takes up the first 75 pages of the document, followed by hundreds of pages of evidence exhibits, some of which were withheld “based on Meta’s confidentiality designation.”
Skrmetti is one of nine attorneys General that filed lawsuits in their respective states on top of 33 states participating in a federal lawsuit in California, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuits are the result of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation led by Skrmetti and Colorado AG Phil Weiser. The allegations effectively claim that Meta used technology in a way that was addictive to youth and teens while misleading the public about the dangers it caused to maximize it’s financial profit.
Here’s an explanation of what Tennessee’s case filed by Skrmetti’s office says.
The basis of the Tennessee Attorney General’s case is that Meta allegedly violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Acts by repeatedly engaging in unfair and deceptive business conduct as it operated Instagram at the expense of Tennesseans, and especially young users, the document says.
“Meta has known for years that Instagram causes psychological harm to young users,” said Skrmetti. “Rather than take steps to reduce or disclose the harm, Meta leaned further in to its profit-maximizing approach that hurts kids. Targeting kids with a harmful product and lying about its safety violates the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Meta knows every last design decision that made Instagram addictive to kids and that means it knows exactly how to fix the problem. We’re suing to make the company fix the problem.”
According to the lawsuit, Meta designed Instagram to be an “addiction machine targeted at people under eighteen,” knowing those users had limited self control. Among other allegations, the AG claims that Meta made the app to have no natural break in consumption, gave young users the array of design features that were peppered with reminders to “log on” and made it psychologically difficult to “log off.”
On top of creating a never ending feed for users to continuously scroll through, the AG claims that the company created a façade that Instagram was a safe platform by publicizing its “Community Standards Enforcement Reports” while much of the rampant bullying and harassing content on the app did not violate the app’s community standards.
The Attorney General alleges many minors experiencing feel addicted to the app, on top of other harmful effects, such as increased levels of depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorders, altered psychological and neurological development, and reduced sleep. Skrmetti goes on to say that the design choices that make Instagram so addictive also are what makes it so that young users cannot reasonably avoid that harm, thus violating the TCAP.
Perhaps among the most persuasive evidence in the lawsuit is testimony obtained by The State from former the Director of Engineering during the Attorney General’s investigation. The former director is quoted as confirming that he believed that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other company leaders focused on certain statistics that created a distorted view of safety of Meta’s platforms.
“Every time that a Company spokesperson in the context of harms quotes prevalence statistics I believe that is what they are doing, that they’re minimizing the harms that people are experiencing in the product,” he is quoted as saying on page 6 of the lawsuit.
From the lawsuit, Skrmetti is seeking permanent injunctions against Meta to prohibit Meta from using platform features that cause compulsive use among young users and prevent the company from engaging in deceptive acts and practices. Additionally, the suit seeks Meta to pay civil penalties to the State of Tennessee of no more than $1,000 per violation of the TCPA, and that Meta meaningfully discloses, on a regular basis, the risks posted to young users by Instagram.
Meta issued a statement to the Associated Press in response to the lawsuits, saying “the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families… We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path”
Skrmetti also made it clear that his office and the other attorneys general are not exclusively going after Meta. The multistate coalition is also investigating TikTok’s conduct related to a “similar set of concerns.” According to Skrmetti’s office, Tennessee is currently engaged in litigation related to TikTok’s failure to provide adequate responses to the state investigation.