US: Meta's Instagram caused eating disorders, two new lawsuits claim

They say that teens see pictures of very thin models and content related to extreme exercise



By Reuters

Published: Tue 26 Jul 2022, 7:01 AM

Last updated: Tue 26 Jul 2022, 7:08 AM

Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc was hit with two new lawsuits Monday accusing it of fueling eating disorders and other mental health problems in teenage users of its Instagram photo sharing service, the latest in a string of lawsuits linking social media to mental health problems in children.

Two families, both represented by Laura Marquez-Garrett of the Social Media Victims Law Centre, filed their lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco. The lawsuits alleged that Instagram caused the girls to become addicted to the service and to develop depression, anxiety and anorexia.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Instagram allows users to post pictures, and uses an automated algorithm to show them other users' pictures. Both of Monday's lawsuits said the algorithm encouraged eating disorders by showing the teens pictures of very thin models and content related to extreme exercise.

Both girls attempted suicide and were hospitalized multiple times, according to the lawsuits. One of them had to have a feeding tube at times because she would not eat.

They said Meta knew that some people became addicted to the service, and that teenagers were especially vulnerable. They also said that the company failed to verify users' ages, allowing both plaintiffs to join when they were only 12 despite a nominal minimum age of 13, and failed to shield minors from sexual messages.

ALSO READ:

Both lawsuits also alleged that the algorithm recommended "'friends' who were, in fact, adult Instagram users either suffering from these mental health issues themselves or using the Instagram product to find and exploit young girls."

At least nine other lawsuits have been filed against Meta alleging harm to minors' mental health, including one accusing the company of contributing to an 11-year-old girl's suicide. So far, all are in their early stages.

In February, US Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Cynthia Lummis, a Republican, introduced a bill aimed at addressing social media addiction. The bill calls for the National Science Foundation and National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to study potential measures social media companies could take to discourage addiction, and empower the Federal Trade Commission to pass rules requiring them.

The cases are CN v. Meta Platforms Inc and Martin v. Meta Platforms Inc, Nos. 3:22-cv-04283 and 3:22-cv-04286, US District Court for the Northern District of California.


More news from Tech