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Delaware joins Meta lawsuit over social media safety

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Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, were sued Tuesday by Delaware and many other states over its practices regarding teens and children. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BRETT JORDAN / UNSPLASH

WILMINGTON – Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings once again joined a multi-district lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest companies on Tuesday, suing Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta over its safety practices related to children.

The First State joined a bipartisan coalition of about three dozen states in suing Meta, alleging that it used features on its platforms to addict children to its platforms, even as the company said its social media sites were safe for young people. It also charges that Meta is aware of children under the age of 13 using its platforms and routinely collects data on them without informing parents or obtaining parental consent, in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The largest case that includes Delaware was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where Meta is headquartered, but other cases filed by nine more attorneys general in their respective states brings the total number of plaintiffs to 42 against the social media giant.

The case was not unexpected, as the attorneys general have been investigating Meta’s practices since 2021 and the company has already faced smaller, similar cases around the country.

Jennings has not shied away from major federal cases against corporate giants, joining those against Amazon over its small-business services, Google over its search practices and a coalition of drugmakers over alleged price fixing in the past few years. She has also sued dozens of fossil fuel companies, alleging that they have knowingly downplayed the climate change impacts of their products.

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings has joined the multi-district lawsuit against Meta regarding its alleged harm to children. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“This litigation underscores our office’s commitment to safeguarding some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens —children, teens, and young adults,” Jennings said in a statement announcing the Meta case. “As the case will reveal, Meta is aware of the unsafe and addictive nature of its products, yet consistently chooses not to implement fundamental safety measures, opting instead to deceive the public. Companies prioritizing profits over the safety of Delawareans will be held accountable, irrespective of their size.”  

While much of the 233-page complaint is redacted due to confidential company material, reporting on Meta’s practices and its platforms’ impact on young people has been widespread in recent years.

That included a series of 2021 articles by the Wall Street Journal based upon the leaked documents of Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen that noted young users were a “valuable, but untapped” base for Meta to pursue. 

Other former employees have detailed how Meta’s algorithms and features like infinite scroll and push alerts induce users into descending “rabbit holes” to maximize engagement and therefore profitability.  Aza Raskin, the original developer of the infinite scroll concept, explained the feature’s addictive qualities to the BBC, saying, “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses … you just keep scrolling.”

The attorneys general claim that Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, Meta maintained their platforms were safe for young users. 

The case seeks both injunctive and monetary relief that would ban Meta from continuing the practices and provide restitution for an estimated tens of thousands of young Delawareans who have used Meta’s platforms, along with civil penalties.

“I am laser focused on the role that social media plays in intensifying the spread of harmful content and fostering addiction among young people to their platforms,” Jennings added. “Whether it’s content that promotes self-harm or glorifies crime and violent conduct in our communities, companies must take decisive action to ensure that their websites do not endorse perilous behavior that harms the mental health of its users. When they refuse to take action, our office will pursue them with the full force of the law.”

In a statement, Meta said it shares “the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and has 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,” the company added.

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