Instagram faces investigation over its impact on teens

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Angela Lang/CNET

A group of state attorneys general said Thursday they’re investigating whether Meta, formerly known as Facebook, violated state consumer protection law by promoting its social media app Instagram to children and teens even though it knew of the service’s harms. 

“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health – exploiting children in the interest of profit,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement.

Attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont are leading the investigation. The bipartisan group will look at the ways Meta increased “the frequency and duration of engagement by young users” and how that increased use was harmful, according to a press release from the coalition. 

The announcement underscores how scrutiny of the world’s largest social network continues to heat up after former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress. The Wall Street Journal published a series of stories partly based on some of those documents, including an article about how Facebook knows Instagram is “toxic” for teen girls, worsening their body image and mental health. The social network says the research is being “mischaracterized” and noted the study also showed some teens felt better about their body image after using Instagram. US lawmakers have also been holding hearings about social media’s impact on young people.

“These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts. While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” a Meta spokeswoman said in a statement. Instagram has been working on new features aimed at improving mental health, including a tool that reminds users to take a break from the platform.

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