A coalition of several dozen states today filed a landmark lawsuit against Meta Platforms, the company controlled by Mark Zuckerberg that owns and operates Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, alleging that it has violated numerous federal and state laws through its harmful and deceptive business practices.
Among those states are Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, each of which is participating in the case. The former are alleging violations of their respective laws.
Washington, represented by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, alleges violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, Wash. Rev. Code. § 19.86.
“Meta engaged in deceptive acts or practices affecting Washington consumers, including young users, parents of young users, and Meta advertisers, and in violation of Wash. Rev. Code. § 19.86.020 by making representations, directly or indirectly, expressly or by implication, regarding its Social Media Platforms,” the lawsuit says. It then cites seven specific ways in which Meta violated the law.
Oregon, represented by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, alleges violations of Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA), pursuant to O.R.S. § 646.636:
“Meta, acting in the course of its businesses, vocations, or occupations, violated O.R.S. § 646.608(1)(e) when Meta expressly and by implication made false or misleading representations that its goods or services have characteristics, uses, benefits or qualities that the goods or services do not have. The representations relate to Meta’s Social Media Platforms,” the lawsuit says.
Idaho, represented by Attorney General Raúl Labrador, is not requesting any state-specific relief. However, it is joining the other states in alleging that Meta violated COPPA. That’s the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, a federal regulation which “imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under thirteen years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under thirteen years of age.”
“Over the past decade, Meta — itself and through its flagship Social Media Platforms Facebook and Instagram (its Social Media Platforms or Platforms)—has profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans,” the plaintiff states argue in their introductions,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens. Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms,” the suit adds.
“It has concealed the ways in which these Platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children. And it has ignored the sweeping damage these Platforms have caused to the mental and physical health of our nation’s youth. In doing so, Meta engaged in, and continues to engage in, deceptive and unlawful conduct in violation of state and federal law.”
A later passage in the suit — parts of which are heavily redacted, apparently to protect proprietary trade secrets — delves further into one of these arguments.
That passage notes: “Meta’s design choices and practices take advantage of and contribute to young users’ susceptibility to addiction. They exploit psychological vulnerabilities of young users through the false promise that meaningful social connection lies in the next story, image, or video and that ignoring the next piece of social content could lead to social isolation.”
The allegedly illegal conduct discussed in the lawsuit will be familiar to anyone who has watched The Social Dilemma, a docudrama that came out in 2020 on Netflix and featured several people who were formerly employed at Meta and Google, including Tim Kendall, former director of monetization at Facebook.
Meta published a digital paper in response to The Social Dilemma which tried to discredit the statements made by former insiders by saying in part that they no longer work at Meta or other big tech companies, so they can’t authoritatively criticize the likes of Meta — a very convenient and self-serving posture:
“Rather than offer a nuanced look at technology, it [the film] gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work to create a convenient scapegoat for what are difficult and complex societal problems. The film’s creators do not include insights from those currently working at the companies or any experts that take a different view to the narrative put forward by the film.”
“They also don’t acknowledge — critically or otherwise — the efforts already taken by companies to address many of the issues they raise. Instead, they rely on commentary from those who haven’t been on the inside for many years.”
No doubt Meta will once again claim that it is being subjected to unfair criticism.
“We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path,” the company said after the lawsuit was announced by the dozens of states bringing it.
Meta would not have to be “disappointed” to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit like this if its business practices were ethical and responsible. There’s a growing mountain of evidence that the company has repeatedly chosen to put its own financial interests above the safety and well-being of its billions of users.
“Meta has been the subject of widespread and growing public scrutiny,” noted a release from Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office announcing the suit.
“Around the time the coalition started its investigation, a whistleblower at Meta revealed that the company was circulating extensive research internally regarding the risk of harm to its users, including youth. The company has also been the target of bipartisan Congressional hearings on the safety of kids online and a documentary film featuring warnings from former Meta insiders who helped design the features at the center of the coalition’s federal lawsuit.”
The complaint initiating the lawsuit may be read in its entirety below.Multi-state complaint against Meta