Meta in Legal Trouble: States Claim Design to Hook Kids on Facebook and Instagram

Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger

In a big legal mess spanning more than 40 states, Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, is facing serious accusations. The states say that Meta purposefully made features to get kids to use its social media for a long time. This not only puts Meta in hot water but also makes people question the ethics of how tech companies target younger users.

What They're Saying

States like Washington and the others argue that Meta intentionally made things in a way that makes kids want to keep using its apps. The legal drama got more intense when whistleblower Frances Haugen spilled the beans, as reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2021. This led to a Senate hearing and put Meta’s platform design under public scrutiny.

As per the lawsuit, Meta’s business practices contravene state consumer protection laws and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), causing damage to the physical and mental well-being of children and teenagers, both presently and persistently. The main claim is that Meta’s computer programs, or algorithms, guide kids to content that might not be good for them. Features like the never-ending scroll and constant alerts are said to be designed to keep young users hooked on social media.

The lawsuit says that Meta knew its platforms could harm kids’ mental health but hid the “psychological and health harms” from young users, according to the Delaware Department of Justice. The big accusation is that Meta cared more about making money than telling young users about the possible risks. “Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” the states said in their 233-page lawsuit. “Its motive is profit.””

Experts think Meta might use Section 230 as a defense, but these lawsuits are about breaking rules to protect consumers and kids, not just controlling what’s on the platforms.

Significance Of The Lawsuit

Lawsuits from many states show a collective effort to deal with the issue of kids’ safety online. People compare this to past lawsuits against big tobacco companies. Colorado’s Attorney General, Phil Weiser, drew parallels between Meta’s actions and the profit-driven decisions of industries like Big Tobacco and vaping. He stated, 

“Just like Big Tobacco and vaping companies have done in years past, Meta chose to maximize its profits at the expense of public health, specifically harming the health of the youngest among us.”

Globally, legislators have been actively seeking ways to regulate platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to safeguard children. In recent years, countries like Britain as well as U.S. states have enacted laws mandating social media platforms to enhance privacy and safety measures for minors. For instance, Utah’s legislation includes provisions requiring social media apps to automatically disable notifications for minors overnight, aiming to mitigate disruptions to children’s sleep.

Meta's Defense And Counterclaims

Meta says it’s committed to making its apps safer for teenagers. The company talks about introducing more than 30 tools to help teenagers and their families. Meta expresses disappointment with the states, saying they didn’t work together to set clear rules for teenage app use. “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,” the company said in a statement.

What's Next in Court?

As the legal battle continues, Meta will likely fight hard against the case. Colorado Attorney General Mr. Weiser says they filed the lawsuit because talks with Meta didn’t work out. There’s also another lawsuit from regular people accusing Meta of hurting kids and teenagers, adding more complexity to the legal fight.

Beyond all the legal stuff, we need to think about how this might affect kids if the claims are true.

  • More Time on Screens: The accusations suggest that how Meta designed its apps might make kids spend more time on their screens. This extra time on social media could mess with sleep, exercise, and overall mental health.
  • Mental Health Worries: Social media can sometimes make young users feel bad about themselves. If Meta was intentionally trying to get kids hooked, it could mean problems with body image and mental health.
  • Privacy Concerns: The claims against Meta also bring up worries about how private kids’ information is. If Meta is using data to show ads to kids, it makes people concerned about how safe and private kids are online.

In figuring out what’s going on with Meta allegedly trying to get kids hooked on Instagram and Facebook, this legal mess is a big deal. The outcome could change how big tech companies think about keeping users, especially young ones, safe.


While the legal fight keeps going, one thing is clear: this case goes beyond courts and laws. It’s a call for the tech industry to rethink how they do things and put the well-being of their youngest users first. Whether Meta comes out fine or faces consequences, what happens here is a big moment in deciding how technology and ethics mix in our digital world.