A consortium of state attorneys general have opened an investigation into Instagram, with a particular eye on how the app, which is owned by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), negatively affects the health of kids and young adults.
Concerns about the app’s detrimental effects ― and political will to act on it ― skyrocketed this fall, after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked thousands of pages of damning internal research.
Among other revelations, the documents show that Meta knows Instagram is toxic to teenagers and that it exacerbates body image issues, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation among vulnerable young people.
Despite that knowledge, the company made only minimal efforts to curb the harmful effects of the platform, while doubling down on trying to increase the amount of time young adults spend there.
“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health ― exploiting children in the interest of profit,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is co-leading the bipartisan group, said in a statement Thursday.
“Meta can no longer ignore the threat that social media can pose to children for the benefit of their bottom line.”
Other states involved include California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.
Instagram disputed the claims, noting in a statement to NPR that the app is working on an option that, once enabled, would occasionally nudge users to “take a break.” Parents also have the option of restricting their kids’ Instagram accounts via parental controls.
“These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts,” Instagram spokesperson Liza Crenshaw told NPR in a statement. “While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders.”
In a separate development this week, Meta Platforms is also facing legal action brought by Ohio’s largest public employee pension fund. The fund is suing the company over market losses that it says resulted from Facebook misleading investors about its detrimental global impact. The company told The Associated Press the suit is without merit.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.