Missouri Attorney General joins 33 state coalition in lawsuit to protect children from Meta platform’s harmful features

META or Facebook and Instagram news graphic

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey joined a coalition of 33 states in filing a suit against Meta, alleging 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.

The lawsuit claims that Meta, instead of working to mitigate the damage inflicted by its social media platforms, publicly concealed the severity of the psychological harm they cause, including addiction to the platforms, which could, and in some cases did, result in physical harm.

“Today, I filed a suit against Meta to enforce our consumer protection laws and protect Missouri children,” said Attorney General Bailey. “If there’s anything we’ve discovered in our federal censorship lawsuit, it’s that these Big Tech social media companies do not have Americans’ best interests at heart. The last thing we need is for Big Tech giants to make a profit at the expense of our children’s health. We will use every legal tool at our disposal to protect children across the nation.”

The federal lawsuit asserts that Meta violated state consumer protection laws by assuring the public that the platforms are safe and suitable for young users. Yet, the company’s practices harmed and continue to harm the mental and physical health of teenagers and pre-teens, the suit maintains, fueling what the U.S. Surgeon General has called a “youth mental health crisis,” which has prompted suicides, devastated families, and damaged a generation of young people.

The complaint further alleges that Meta violated federal law – specifically, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – when the company, aware that users younger than 13 were actively on its platforms, collected data from those users without parental consent. Meta targeted these youngest users after identifying them as a “valuable, but untapped” base, as reported in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article.

Although much of the lawsuit relies on confidential material not yet available to the public, some publicly available sources – including disclosures from former Meta employees – detail how the company deliberately sought to gain financially by addicting teens and tweens to its platforms.

Meta’s platform algorithms, the lawsuit says, push users into descending “rabbit holes,” with the objective of keeping users on the platform for long periods. Meta also allegedly used features such as infinite scroll and near-constant alerts in a concerted effort to hold young users’ attention. Such manipulative tactics entice teens and tweens to continually return to the platforms. Instead of disclosing the harm and making meaningful changes to minimize it, Meta publicly advertised their platforms as safe for young users.

In related complaints filed today in state courts, eight other attorneys general made similar allegations. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The federal and state lawsuits stem from a bipartisan investigation of Meta.

The attorneys general also allege that the platforms served harmful content – including material associated with eating disorders, violence, negative self-perception, body-image issues, and bullying – to young users. The lawsuit seeks injunctive and monetary relief caused by Meta’s platforms.

Joining Attorney General Bailey in the federal filing are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Filing lawsuits in their respective state courts are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.

The lawsuit can be viewed here.