Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares claims media giant Meta intentionally laced its user content with “behavior cocaine” to keep teens hooked, and now he’s taking them to court.
Miyares, along with a bipartisan group of 41 other attorneys general, sued Meta in federal and state courts Tuesday, alleging the company “knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and its other social media platforms that are purposefully addictive for children and teens.”
At the same time, Meta “repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers” of its platforms and concealed the ways in which its platforms “exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children,” the lawsuit states.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Miyares compared Meta’s behavior to that of Big Tobacco, which used cartoon characters decades ago in its advertisements to appeal to kids. If Meta doesn’t change its ways and “be part of the solution”, Miyares said, he’s willing to fight them “all damn day.”
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“The reality is that they knew millions upon millions of under-age-13 users were on Instagram. It is estimated nationally that roughly 45% of those ages 10, 11 or 12 in this country have an Instagram or Tiktok account,” the AG said.
“Meta knows and has known that over 50% of its users under the age of 13 are lying about their age as they sign up.”
Miyares argued it’s “just like back in the 70s and 80s” when Americans “started getting horrified that big tobacco was using childlike images like Joe Camel to intentionally target young people.”
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“This is exactly what Meta has been doing. They realized that if we can lock you in at a young age, we have you as a client for over the next decade,” he said.
Virginia’s top cop is accusing Meta of violating “a host” of state laws and the federal Children Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA.
Miyares noted that mental health and well-being statistics among young children is “staggering.” Depression has more than doubled in roughly the last decade, particularly among teenagers. Emergency room visits for self-inflicted injuries has more than doubled. Teen suicide among girls is at a 40-year high, he noted.
Virginia joined a bipartisan investigation into Meta’s actions after media reports about social media’s damaging effects on youth.
The states found that “Meta has profited from monetizing our children’s addiction to its platform. That it has viewed young people as a ‘valuable and untapped market,’” Miyares said.
Miyares said Meta has “bragged” about some of its features on Instagram as “behavior cocaine they sprinkled all over their interface, and the idea is they want to go after young people.”
The lawsuit alleges Meta “designed and deployed harmful and psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended Platform use, while falsely assuring the public that its features were safe and suitable for young users.”
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“[D]espite overwhelming internal research, independent expert analysis, and publicly available data that its Social Media Platforms harm young users, Meta still refuses to abandon its use of known harmful features — and has instead redoubled its efforts to misrepresent, conceal, and downplay the impact of those features on young users’ mental and physical health,” the lawsuit states.
“The infinite scroll system, for example, makes it difficult for young users to disengage because there is no natural end point for the display of new information. The Platforms do not stop displaying new information when a user has viewed all new posts from their peers. Instead, the Platform displays new content and suggests relevant information that has yet to be viewed, provoking the young users’ (fear of missing out),” the lawsuit claims.
The legal documents quote the inventor of infinite scroll who said of the feature’s addictive qualities, “If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses … you just keep scrolling.”
“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,” a spokesperson for Meta told Fox News Digital in a statement.
“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.”
In their lawsuit, the attorneys general acknowledged the “time management” tools, but said in reality they are no match against the “overwhelming power of features like infinite scroll, autoplay, and other use-inducing features.”
Miyares says he wants the company to adopt an age verification system that works, and the priority is putting the platforms in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.
“We’re happy to work with them to get to that point,” he said. “But, listen, if they choose to fight, I can tell you right now you have almost every attorney general in this country willing to go into court, banded together. Our resources are impressive, and we’re going to win the day.”
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