Facebook enters US states’ crosshairs for keeping young people on Instagram too long

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from at least nine US states is investigating how Facebook has attracted young people to Instagram and the potential harm using the app can do to them, reports the British newspaper Financial Times. Facebook – whose parent company changed its name to Meta – owns Instagram.

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Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General, explains that the goal is to find out if the company violated state consumer protection laws and “put the public at risk” by promoting the photo-sharing app for children and young people, “despite know that such use is associated with physical and mental damage to health”.

According to the FT, the investigation focuses in particular on techniques used by Facebook to increase the frequency and length of time that young people spend using the app.

In a statement, Maura says she is co-ordinating a national coalition to uncover the involvement of Mark Zuckerberg’s company with young users, ”identify any illegal practices and end these abuses forever.”

“Meta can no longer ignore the threat that social media can pose to children, to the benefit of their bottom line,” added the prosecutor.

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In addition to Maura, the attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Vermont are involved in the investigation.

The investigation initiated by the group of prosecutors comes after a report in the Wall Street Journal, based on documents leaked by former manager of Facebook, Frances Haugen, which showed that the company’s internal research found that Instagram had a mixed effect on the health of young people — although the company denies the allegations.

While some users who suffer from loneliness have reported a positive experience using Instagram, for example, this has also been found to deepen teenagers’ concerns about body image.

The documents the Financial Times had access to show that younger users are spending less time and producing less content on Instagram, lured by rivals like the short video app TikTok.

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The FT report also reminds that demands to improve the protection of children in social media applications have gained traction this year.

In a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook; Jack Dorsey from Twitter; and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, have faced several allegations that their platforms are deliberately designed to hook young users from an early age, track kids online and expose them to toxic content.

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Facebook even suspended plans to launch Instagram Kids, a version of the app for children under 13, after a backlash from the public, members of Congress and a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general over similar concerns.

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