States study how Instagram recruits and influences children: NPR

Instagram is researching how it attracts and influences its youngest users.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP via Getty Images


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KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP via Getty Images


Instagram is researching how it attracts and influences its youngest users.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP via Getty Images

A two-part group of state attorneys is investigating how Instagram attracts and potentially harms children and young adults.

The study follows revelations from a whistleblower about how Instagram’s parent company Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has investigated the risks of the photo sharing app for its youngest users, including worsening body images for some teenage girls.

“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 – exploitation of children in the interest of profit,” Massachusetts Justice Minister Maura Healey, who is leading the state inquiry, said in a statement.

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

The group, which also includes prosecutors from Nebraska, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont, is investigating whether Meta violated consumer protection laws and endangered the public.

The pressure on Meta has been rising since former employee Frances Haugen leaked thousands of pages of internal documents about how the company has studied and handled a range of issues, from hate speech to the “Stop the Steal” movement to Instagram’s mental health impacts. on teenage users.

The documents also show that Meta is struggling to attract and retain the attention of young people in the midst of competition from apps like TikTok and Snapchat.

States are exploring the techniques Meta uses to get young people to log on to Instagram more often and spend more time scrolling the app, and how those features can hurt users.

“When social media platforms treat our children as pure goods to manipulate for longer screen time engagement and data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” Nebraska Justice Minister Doug Peterson said in a statement.

Meta did not respond to a request for comment from NPR.

Following Instagram’s internal research on risks to teens’ mental health was first reported by Wall Street Journal in september, lawmakers and regulators renewed Meta scrapping its plans to launch a version of the app for children 12 and under. (Instagram, like most social media apps, bans users under 13 because of federal privacy laws.)

Shortly afterwards, Meta said it put the project on hold.

Editor’s note: Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.

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