A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general on Thursday announced an investigation into Meta, focusing on whether the parent company of Instagram and Facebook violated consumer protection laws by promoting the app and other social networking products to children and teens.
The probe, announced in a news release by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, D, follows reports that the company's internal research suggested that its products negatively affect the mental health of young people, especially teen girls. It highlights ballooning regulatory scrutiny of the tech giant, which is already the target of a federal antitrust lawsuit.
The attorneys general say the investigation focuses on the techniques the social networking giant uses to increase the frequency and duration of engagement by young users, as well as the harms that may be caused by this continued interaction.
"Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health - exploiting children in the interest of profit," Healey said in the news release. "Meta can no longer ignore the threat that social media can pose to children for the benefit of their bottom line."
California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont are also co-leading the investigation.
Meta spokesman Andy Stone said the state attorneys general's allegations are "false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts." He said the company is working on developing parental supervision controls and "exploring ways to provide even more age-appropriate experiences for teens by default."
The internal research of Instagram's negative impact on youth's mental health was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The social network has faced increased regulatory scrutiny in the fallout after revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former employee who exposed a trove of internal company documents, known as the Facebook Papers.
State attorneys general are increasingly playing a formidable role in challenging the business practices of tech giants. Advocates for tech regulation have frequently compared their efforts to the crackdown on Big Tobacco, in which states played a critical role in regulating the industry's practices.
Last month, Haugen's attorneys told The Washington Post they had shared some of the internal documents she gathered with several of the states involved in this probe. On Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, R, filed a lawsuit against Meta, alleging company executives repeatedly made false claims about the safety of its platform and the efforts it was making to protect users. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, D, and more than a dozen other Democratic state attorneys general sent a letter to the social network, demanding more information about the company's handling of vaccine misinformation.
In Washington, the Facebook Papers have prompted hearings about tech regulations, putting particular pressure on lawmakers to update decades-old laws protecting children online. Haugen also made disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging the company misled investors about its investments in safety. Some lawmakers have also called on the Federal Trade Commission to open a probe of the documents.