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Utah, other states file lawsuit against Facebook and Instagram

Posted at 10:05 AM, Oct 24, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah and 41 other states are filing a lawsuit against Meta, the owner of Facebook, Instagram and Threads.

Utah's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court, accuses the company of harming the youth of the state through Facebook and Instagram.

"Over the past decade, Meta—itself and through its flagship social media products Facebook and Instagram —has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans, harnessing powerful and unprecedented technologies to ensnare youth to the detriment of their mental health. In the process, Meta has misled consumers and the public about the nature of its Social Media Platforms and has taken advantage of children all in the name of maximizing profit. Meta’s strategic choice to exploit and manipulate children in this way, and to inflict upon them longlasting harms to their well-being, is repugnant and unlawful," Utah's lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accused Meta of developing addictive features like "infinite scroll," "autoplay," and short-form videos "designed to discourage children’s attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s products."

"All of that is designed to keep the user’s attention in order for Meta to collect data on our kids and sell that data to advertisers so they can serve up targeted ads. It’s all about the money," Utah Dept. of Commerce Executive Director Margaret Woolley Busse, whose agency is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told FOX 13 News in an interview on Tuesday.

Utah's lawsuit was filed separately from a federal lawsuit leveled by 41 other states against Meta, making similar accusations. The litigation is now bipartisan with Republicans and Democrats now actively pursuing social media companies.

"There is a youth mental health crisis in America fueled by social media use, particularly young people’s extensive and compulsive use of Meta’s platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. This ongoing catastrophe has ended lives, devastated families, and damaged the potential of our nation’s youth," Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said in a statement.

"Meta not only ignored the well-being of young users but deliberately misled the public, claiming their platforms were safe. By violating consumer protection laws and federal privacy standards, they've put the mental health and well-being of an entire generation at risk. Meta must be held accountable for its irresponsible and damaging actions."

In a statement to FOX 13 News, Meta expressed disappointment in the litigation.

"We share 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," the company said.

For Utah, this is the latest in a long-running war against social media platforms. Governor Spencer Cox has accused them of harming the mental health of Utah's youth. The state recently filed a lawsuit against TikTok, accusing it of crafting addictive algorithms and engaging in deceptive practices. A judge recently ordered TikTok to cooperate with state investigators or face a contempt of court citation.

"Just as litigation effectively spurred change by the opioid pharmaceutical industry and Big Tobacco, we expect this lawsuit will inspire Meta to improve its child safety practices," Gov. Cox said in a statement. "Regulating social media companies to protect minors is not a partisan issue, and most people across the political spectrum agree we cannot allow addictive algorithms and deceptive practices to continue harming our children. This action shows we will continue to fight for the mental health and well-being of our kids."

Read the lawsuit here: