Social Media

The Social Media Dilemma: The Legal Landscape of Meta Lawsuits

In 2019, Adam Mosseri, a leading figure at Meta, the parent company of Instagram, took the stage to address a critical shift within the platform. He announced a comprehensive reevaluation of the user experience, emphasizing a groundbreaking commitment to prioritizing the well-being of its users.

This marked a pivotal moment for Instagram, signaling a move towards a future where user well-being would be the cornerstone of its development and operation.

However, the current state of Instagram is miles away from this claim. Public pronouncements paint a carefully curated picture, minimizing the potential for negative impacts.

Arturo Bejar, once an engineering director at Facebook and later a consultant at Instagram, came out publicly and stated that Meta was blatantly ignoring the potential mental harm its platforms were causing.

In this blog post, we will shed light on the current legal landscape surrounding Instagram and what you, as a parent, can hope for in the future.

The Instagram Controversy: Deteriorating Teen Mental Health

A recent Gallup survey conducted among over 1,500 adolescents in the United States revealed a staggering fact. A majority (51%) of the teenage population spends a significant portion of their day, exceeding four hours, engaged with various social media platforms. Moreover, according to Statista, over 10% of US teens spend 2-3 hours daily on Instagram.

Instagram’s allure lies in its visual nature and social validation. With each carefully curated post, teenagers showcase their lives, seeking the approval of their peers through likes and comments.

The platform wields a powerful tool: personalized algorithms. These algorithms, designed to keep users hooked, curate content specifically tailored to individual interests. This creates a mesmerizing “rabbit hole” effect, making it increasingly difficult to break free from the constant stream of information.

Excessive social media use among teenagers can manifest in several ways, potentially impacting their mental well-being. The relentless pressure to portray a flawless online persona can cultivate feelings of inadequacy and erode self-esteem.

Additionally, the fear of missing out (FOMO) can fuel anxiety, as teenagers grapple with the desire to remain constantly connected and keep pace with their peers. This relentless pressure to maintain an idealized online image and the constant comparison with others can significantly impact the emotional well-being of young minds.

Furthermore, according to TorHoerman Law, Instagram has slowly evolved into a breeding ground for the harassment and exploitation of women and young girls.

This is attributed, in part, to the absence of a review or approval process for shared photos and videos. This means that such illicit content is allowed to spread on the platform before it can even intervene. This presents a very serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

Current Legal Landscape

Today, a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from over 40 U.S. states has filed a series of lawsuits alleging that Instagram and its parent company, Meta, are culpable for their adverse effects on young users.

The litigation contends that Meta, the parent company, has engaged in a pattern of misrepresentation to the public. The suit alleges that Meta obfuscated the significant potential dangers associated with its platforms. It also alleges that the company manipulated young users into forming addictive and compulsive social media habits.

The Instagram lawsuit aims to prohibit Meta from perpetuating its deceptive practices and compel it to pay civil penalties.

However, Meta begs to differ. The company claims to have implemented more than 30 tools, including parental controls and usage limiters, to aid young users. Moreover, it believes that the rising mental health issues are an interplay of several factors.

According to them, a regular teenager grapples with mounting academic demands, escalating income disparities, and restricted access to mental healthcare services.

Meta does not seem in any mood to change its user experience or do away with the platform’s Persuasive Technology that utilizes positive sensory feedback to hook users.

Personal Stories of Mental Distress

Instagram is replete with filters that can change the very contour of a shape and make the skin look flawless. And, who does not like praise and comments on their posts? But, validation from an online audience is unsustainable and unhealthy.

For these kids, even before they realize it, they start living dual lives—one having an online presence and one for the real world. However, it does not take time for this ideal bubble to burst and for the affected, to come crashing down.

An internal study by Facebook found that over 13% of teenage girls attributed worsened suicidal thoughts and 17% reported worsened eating disorders to using their platform.

Freya’s story, aired in the BBC documentary The Science of Social Media Addiction, paints a poignant picture of the real and often harrowing costs associated with the mental health impact of Instagram.  At just 14 years old, she grappled not with the familiar teenage desires of capturing perfect moments and yearning for the seemingly ideal lives depicted online, but with a paralyzing fear.

Her words, “On Instagram, you can see hoards of models, influencers, and celebrities and realize that you can never be like them!”, reflect the stark reality. They capture the tremendous self-doubt that can take root after hours spent scrolling through endless streams of curated online personas.

Molly Russel was all but 14 when she claimed her life due to depression. According to her father, she fell into the abyss of despair induced by social media.

Discovering the content their child had been consuming online for over a year sent a wave of shock through the parents. The realization painted a daunting picture of a digital landscape far removed from the haven they envisioned for their child.

The Road Ahead

The road ahead involves a complex interplay of legal action, corporate responsibility, and societal change. As the lawsuits against Meta progress, they have the potential to set important precedents for holding social media companies accountable for the impact of their platforms on teenage mental health.

However, legal action alone is not sufficient to address the broader societal issues at play.

Parents must take an active role in monitoring their children’s social media use, setting healthy boundaries, and promoting digital literacy.

Instagram and other social media platforms need to prioritize user well-being over engagement and profits. This calls for increased transparency, accountability, and the implementation of changes such as improved content moderation, age-appropriate restrictions, and prominent mental health resources.

Furthermore, it is essential to make mental health support and resources more accessible to teenagers struggling with the negative effects of social media.

Promoting healthy social media habits, fostering real-life connections, and encouraging self-care and mindfulness are key to helping teenagers navigate the challenges of the digital age.

About author

Richa Pathak is Founder & Editor at SEM Updates – The Digital Marketing Magazine. She is an emerging digital marketing influencer, a creative consultant & a corporate trainer. With a decade of experience in working with B2C & B2B brands across the globe, she is also a featured author in top-10 marketing magazines globally. She offers various consulting, training, & mentorship programs to share her knowledge. Richa's principle - Plan, Execute, Learn, Implement, Repeat! Digital marketing is Richa's passion & love. She is an innovator & wants to explore more, learn more, try different tools, hacks with various campaigns. She loves reading non-fiction books and does nature photography.
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