A bipartisan group of state attorneys general said on Thursday they had opened an investigation into Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, for promoting its social media app Instagram while knowing of mental and emotional harms caused by the service.
At least nine states are involved in the investigation, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Vermont.
Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general and one of the leaders of the investigation, said the states were examining whether the company’s actions violated state consumer protection laws and put the public 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,” Ms. Healey said.
The move comes after a trove of documents from a former employee detailed research inside of the social media company that suggested teenagers suffered body image issues when using Instagram. The documents, called The Facebook Papers, were shared with journalists in October. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the documents and the issues at Instagram with the help of Frances Haugen, the whistle-blower.
Doug Peterson, the Nebraska attorney general and another leader of the investigation, said the states would examine “the techniques utilized by Meta to increase the frequency and duration of engagement by young users and the resulting harms caused by such extended engagement.”
“When social media platforms treat our kids as mere commodities to manipulate for longer screen time engagement & data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys general to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” Mr. Peterson said in a tweet.
Spanning tens of thousands of pages and gigabytes of data, the Facebook Papers show a company struggling to deal with many issues that come as a byproduct of its enormous scale and billions of users, spanning topics like misinformation, addiction and manipulation of users around the world. Much of the information came in the form of detailed reports investigating the issues, laid out by the company’s research division.
Meta has said the research efforts are intended to address the issues they pinpoint, with the aim of improving the company’s products and services.
The documents detail that roughly a third of teenage girls in a survey who already felt bad about their bodies said Instagram made them feel worse. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves,” the documents said.
Meta has disputed the characterization of the initial reporting on Instagram’s issues, saying that the story lacked context and left out vital information.
Representatives for Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
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