COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is joining 32 other attorneys general in a federal lawsuit against Meta, a technology company that owns both Facebook and Instagram.
The lawsuit alleges “that the social-media technology giant designed and deployed harmful features for Facebook and Instagram to addict young users to its platforms and enhance its bottom line.”
“Meta just didn’t care about what the damage was of their platform, or their algorithms, to our kids,” Yost said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta said “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.”
Yost said this has been a bipartisan investigation for a couple of years.
“This lawsuit is very much warranted,” Yost said.
A spokesperson for Meta said since the investigation began, they have engaged in conversations with the attorneys general, about how Meta supports young people on their platforms and continuously work to do so.
But the lawsuit alleges that Meta’s own research proves its products harm children — a spokesperson responded by saying their research did not say Instagram harms teens and that in many cases the app made young users feel better than worse. They link to a 2022 Pew Research report.
The lawsuit also alleges that Meta attracts teens to profit off them. Meta said while they want to be profitable, the idea that it’s at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands where their long-term interests lie.
“It’s time for them to start doing the right thing,” Yost said. “Slow it down a little bit, worry about what the impacts are going to be.”
This lawsuit comes as lawmakers passed a provision in the state budget that they say will help protect kids from harmful social media use, called the ‘Social Media Parental Notification Act.’
“Social media not only affects the mental health but the physical health and academic success of children,” Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted (R-Ohio) said. “These children are being targeted, in many cases by algorithms, that addict them to these platforms. They experience bullying, shaming, all kinds of things on these platforms on occasion, and it’s harmful. And we know this, so we’ve got to do something about this.”
The new law goes into effect in January and will make it so social media companies must get parental consent before signing anyone up under the age of 16.
“At that time parents will be able to set filters on their children’s account to make sure they don’t get inappropriate or not age-appropriate information and limit time,” Husted said.
Meta said they have developed over 30 tools to support teens on their apps.
They said, for example, when teens under 16 join, their accounts are set to private and the amount of potentially sensitive content they can see is limited.
Meta also points out that they already have age requirements for users of their social media.
“Their safeguards have huge loopholes in them, and it only is up to the age of 13, not to the age of 16,” Husted said. “If we really care about our kids, we need to get to the root causes of some of the problems they’re having and social media and some of these gaming platforms are indeed part of the problem.”
There are a wide range of verification methods the companies can implement under the new law come January — from credit cards to snail mail, to a toll-free number.
“It’s on them (social media companies) to do and if they don’t do it, they’re subject to a penalty,” Husted said. “And we know these companies have the ability to do it.”