Attorneys general from at least 11 states have announced Thursday they are investigating Instagram’s impacts on children and teens, and whether Instagram’s parent company Facebook, or Meta, broke the law after possibly ignoring internal research suggesting the app was harmful.
Attorneys general from New York, Connecticut, California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont said the investigation will take a look at whether Facebook “violated state consumer protection laws” and “put the public at risk” by promoting and providing the app to those under the age of 18, despite being aware of its negative effects on them.
A Facebook internal study on Instagram’s effects on teen mental health found that Instagram worsened “body image issues” for “one in three teenage girls,” 20% of teenagers blamed the app for making them feel worse about themselves and 6% of teens traced suicidal thoughts back to the app.
According to the attorneys general, the investigation will focus on “techniques” Facebook allegedly used to “increase the frequency and duration” that kids and teens use the app and how they are affected by frequently using the app.
Facebook said in a statement the investigation displays a “deep misunderstanding of the facts,” and the company is building new features to help people deal with “negative social comparisons or body image issues” and “parental supervision controls.”
The company also said it is “exploring ways” to give teens “even more age-appropriate experiences.”
“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,” New York Attorney General Leticia James said in a press release Thursday.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said reports on the research of Instagram’s effect on teens were “mischaracterized,” and that the research “actually demonstrated” the app helps teens when they are “struggling with hard moments.” Zuckerberg said their research showed that more teenage girls that struggled with eating issues told them the app “made those difficult times better rather than worse.” An Instagram blog post also said the app’s effects on teens were “mixed,” and it could be negative or positive based on their “state of mind when they use it.”
Following the release of the research on Instagram’s effect on teen mental health in a blockbuster report in the Wall Street Journal, lawmakers renewed calls in September for Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram for kids. Instagram said it would pause its work on the project, but reiterated its belief that parents should have the option to allow “their children (to) access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them.” Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen testified to Congress in October claiming the company ignored its internal research on Instagram’s effect on teens and placed its “profits before people.” Facebook has denied this and instead said that they will use the research to improve Instagram.
Facebook Internal Research Found Instagram Can Be Very Harmful To Young Girls, Report Says (Forbes)
Facebook Publishes Criticized Instagram Research Into Teen Health Ahead Of Congressional Testimony (Forbes)
Lawmakers Demand Facebook Abandon Plans For Instagram For Kids — Again (Forbes)