- Office of the Attorney General
- Office of the Attorney General
Media Contact for AG Campbell Files Lawsuit Against Meta, Instagram For Unfair And Deceptive Practices That Harm Young People
Molly McGlynn, Deputy Communications Director
BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell announced today she is filing a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court against Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook, and its subsidiary, Instagram, for violating the Massachusetts consumer protection law by purposefully designing their applications to addict young users, and actively and repeatedly deceiving the public about the danger posed to young people by overuse of their products.
The lawsuit alleges that based on its own internal research, Meta knew of the significant harm these practices caused to teenage users and chose to hide its knowledge and mislead the public to make a profit. This misconduct affects hundreds of thousands of teenagers in Massachusetts who actively use Instagram.
AG Campbell is joined by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general who are today suing the social media and technology conglomerate in federal court in the Northern District of California and in multiple state courts throughout the country.
“Meta preys on our young people and has chosen to profit by knowingly targeting and exploiting their vulnerabilities. In doing so, Meta has significantly contributed to the ongoing mental health crisis among our children and teenagers,” said AG Campbell. “Because Meta has shown that it will not act responsibly unless it is required to do so by courts of law, my colleagues and I are taking action today – and will continue to push for meaningful changes to Meta’s platforms that protect our young people.”
While much of Massachusetts’ complaint relies on material that currently is subject to impoundment in the Superior Court, publicly available sources, including those previously released by former Meta employees, reveal that Meta purposely made its platforms addictive to children and teens knowing that children and teens were being harmed in the process.
The complaint alleges that Meta secretly utilizes design features that deliberately exploit and capitalize off young users’ unique vulnerabilities and overcome young people’s ability to self-regulate their time spent on its platform. Such features include the “infinite scroll,” near-constant notifications and alerts, autoplay Stories and Reels, features designed to create a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), and “intermittent variable rewards” mechanisms similar to those used by slot machines.
These features were designed and deployed with the intent of hooking young users into spending as much time as possible on the platform, to lure them back when they try to stop, and to overwhelm their ability to control or regulate their own use, with significant and concerning negative impacts on the brain development and mental health of teen users.
The complaint further alleges that Meta knew these features had harmful and negative impacts on young users - but instead of taking steps to mitigate these harms, it chose to mislead the public, touting the safety of its platforms for youth and claiming that it prioritizes young users’ well-being. Numerous internal documents and communications show that Meta, including its more senior executives, were aware that certain features of Instagram induced young users into addictive and habitual use of its platforms. Instead of prioritizing young users’ well-being – as it publicly claimed – Meta repeatedly and deliberately chose not to implement measures and design changes it knew could reduce harms and improve young users’ well-being.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that despite Meta’s claims that children under-13- years-old are not allowed on Instagram and do not use the platform, internal records show that they do. Meta allowed these under-age users to remain on its platform while knowing its harmful nature had the greatest impact on its youngest users. Internal documents reveal the company knew that its measures to keep users under the age of 13 were ineffective and not meaningfully enforced, but that it decided not to use or invest in more effective age verification measures because it would affect the company’s growth and revenue.
The complaint alleges that because of Meta’s conduct, young users in Massachusetts are induced into using Instagram for multiple hours a day (and in lieu of other activities like homework or sleeping), and in an addictive manner that they may be unable to self-regulate.
Research demonstrates that, for adolescents, after one hour of social media use per day, mental health steeply declines: decreases in happiness and self-esteem occur alongside increases of self-harm, depression, and behavioral challenges. Research also shows that habitually checking social media can alter the brain chemistry of adolescents, changing the brain’s sensitivity to social rewards and punishments, with implications for long-term psychological adjustment.
The complaint alleges that in addition to this human toll, Meta’s conduct has placed an undue burden on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including burdens to school systems and increased heath care expenditures, to address the mental and physical health harms that Meta has contributed to in Massachusetts youth.
In 2021, the Massachusetts AG’s Office co-led a bipartisan group of attorneys general in a nationwide investigation into Instagram's impact on young people. Today, Massachusetts joins 8 states in filing similar complaints in state courts. Attorneys general from 33 states have joined the federal lawsuit filed today in federal court.
In Massachusetts, this matter was handled by Deputy Attorney General Sara Cable, Senior Trial Counsel Christina Chan of the AG’s Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau, Director Liza Hirsch and Assistant Attorney General Cassandra Thomson of the AG’s Children’s Justice Unit, Chief Jared Rinehimer, Assistant Attorneys General Aaron Davis and Kaitlyn Karpenko, and Paralegal Grace Yuh of the AG’s Data Privacy and Security Division, and Edward Cherubin, Senior Investigator of the AG’s Civil Investigations Division.