A bipartisan coalition of U.S. state attorneys said Thursday it has opened a probe into Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook, for Instagram’s efforts to attract children and young adults.
The investigation comes at a time when Meta’s Instagram is under scrutiny over the psychological effects on children and young adults. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Facebook’s internal research found that Instagram causes anxiety and depression in young people, and negatively affects body image, especially in young girls.
Attorneys general said they are investigating whether Meta violated consumer protection laws and put youth at risk.
“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,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a news release.
“Time and again, Mark Zuckerberg and the companies he runs have put profits over safety, but our investigation seeks to end that behavior,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Our coalition will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to protect children and young adults from the harms Instagram and other social media platforms risk to so many.”
Facebook, which has received harsh criticism from lawmakers and users for its plan to develop an Instagram for kids, announced in September that it would pause the work on the project. Facebook had argued that kids already lie about their age to use Instagram, so a teen-focused product with parental controls would be a safer alternative and provide a legitimate bridge to eligibility for the entire site.
“These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone responded 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.”
States involved in the investigation include Nebraska, Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vermont, New York and New Jersey.
The company said in a statement Thursday that it is already addressing most of the issues related to the investigation. “We’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the statement said. “We continue to build new features to help people who might be dealing with negative social comparisons or body image issues, including our new ‘Take a Break’ feature and ways to nudge them towards other types of content if they’re stuck on one topic.”
Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced this month that they have started testing the ‘Take a Break’ feature on the social media platform to remind Instagram users to take a break from using the app after either 10, 20, or 30 minutes, based on their preferences.