A legal document asserts that Meta intentionally engineered its platforms to attract and engage children
Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, deliberately crafted its social platforms to capture the attention of children, and it was aware, yet undisclosed, that it had received millions of complaints regarding underage users on Instagram. California Attorney General Rob Bonta made these claims, referencing a recently unredacted complaint.
Originally presented in a redacted form, this complaint marked the beginning of a lawsuit filed in late October by the attorneys general of 33 states. Bonta emphasized the complaint’s portrayal of Meta’s actions as prioritizing endless profits at the expense of harming children.
According to the complaint, internal company documents revealed that Meta officials acknowledged the intentional design of products to exploit characteristics of youthful psychology, such as impulsive behavior, susceptibility to peer pressure, and underestimation of risks. Additionally, some officials recognized that Facebook and Instagram were popular among children under the age of 13, despite company policies prohibiting their use of the service.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Meta responded to the complaint, contending that it misrepresents the company’s efforts over the past decade to ensure the safety of the online experience for teenagers. Meta highlighted the existence of “over 30 tools” designed to support teenagers and their parents.
Regarding the challenge of preventing younger users from accessing the service, Meta argued that age verification is a complex issue within the industry. Instead, the company expressed a preference for transferring the responsibility of monitoring underage usage to app stores and parents. Meta specifically advocated for endorsing federal legislation that would mandate app stores to seek parental approval whenever individuals under the age of 16 download apps.
In a 2019 email, a safety executive at Facebook hinted at the potential negative impact on the company’s business if stricter measures were taken against younger users. However, a year later, the same executive expressed frustration over Facebook’s lack of enthusiasm for identifying and removing younger children from its platforms, despite readily studying the usage patterns of underage users for business purposes.
The complaint highlighted instances where Meta, at times, has a backlog of up to 2.5 million accounts of younger children awaiting action.