State attorneys are investigating Instagram’s negative effects on children

A consortium of state attorneys has opened a study on Instagram with a particular eye on how the app, which is owned by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), negatively affects the health of children and young people.

Concerns about the app’s harmful effects – and political will to act on it – rose in the fall after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked thousands of pages of damning internal research.

It shows the documents among other revelations Meta knows Instagram is toxic to teenagers, and that it worsens body images, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among vulnerable young people.

Despite the knowledge the company has made only a minimal effort to curb the harmful effects of the platform, while doubling it in an attempt to increase the amount of time young adults spend there.

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

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

Other states involved include California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

Instagram disputed the allegations and noted in a statement to NPR that the app working on an opportunity which, once activated, would occasionally push users to “pause”. Parents also have the option to restrict their children’s Instagram accounts via parental control.

“These allegations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of facts,” Instagram spokeswoman Liza Crenshaw told NPR in a statement. “While challenges in protecting young people online affect the entire industry, we have led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-harm and eating disorders.”

In a separate development this week, Meta Platforms is also facing litigation brought by Ohio’s largest government employee pension fund. The fund is suing the company for market losses, which it says is due to Facebook misleading investors about its damaging global impact. The company told The Associated Press that the case is without justification.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, call National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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