CONCORD - New Hampshire's Attorney General on Tuesday announced they have brought a lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. and its subsidiary, Instagram, LLC in Merrimack County Superior Court for violating the State's consumer protection statute and other laws.
The State's Complaint alleges that Meta purposefully designed its popular platforms, Facebook and Instagram, to include addictive features with the goal of enticing and prolonging time children spend scrolling on the platforms. Such features include an algorithm intentionally designed to ensure maximum time spent on the platform, infinite scrolling, and ephemeral content.
The Complaint alleges that when children attempt to step away from using the platforms, Meta bombards them with regular alerts that are intentionally designed to lure them back. These and other features work together to exploit the developmental vulnerabilities of children and trap them into never-ending use that the social media giant knows harms their mental health and wellbeing.
"This lawsuit against Meta marks a significant development in New Hampshire's ongoing efforts and investigation of social media companies and the harms they perpetrate against the children of our state.," said Governor Chris Sununu. "This spring I issued an executive order directing state agencies to develop curriculum specifically related to social media harms. At the same time the Attorney General's Office has begun investigations into additional companies and that work remains ongoing today. These actions show the health and welfare of our children are paramount concerns, and we will take real action to protect New Hampshire's kids."
The complaint alleges that the company designed its social media platforms with the intention to draw children into excessive use, despite the company's full knowledge that extended use poses significant harm to children's physical and mental health. The state also alleges that despite knowledge of the harm, the company continues to target its product to children and most importantly, misrepresents the safety of its platforms to parents and children.
"Our complaint represents a clear message to Meta, that New Hampshire will not allow it to profit at the expense of our kids. Meta knows children and their developing minds are particularly vulnerable to manipulative design techniques that keep them mindlessly scrolling on platforms for as long as possible to extract their data and serve them endless advertisements. Meta's design strategy exploits their vulnerabilities: from a dopamine-inducing personalization algorithm that gives kids the same feeling as gambling, to consistent alerts that interfere with their schoolwork and sleep. Meta content capitalizes on children's fear of missing out and urges them to constantly engage with the platforms," said Attorney General John M. Formella. "Meta's decision to do so despite its knowledge of significant links between excessive use of social media and increased instances of serious health problems such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia is unacceptable and unlawful. Not unlike Big Tobacco a generation ago, Meta has chosen profits over public health, particularly the health of the youngest among us. We bring this action today to hold Meta accountable and stop this unlawful conduct that is harming New Hampshire's kids."
The State's complaint contains five separate counts, alleging that:
- Meta intentionally deployed addictive design features and algorithms to facilitate extended use of its products by children despite knowing the risks posed to this vulnerable population, an unfair business practice under the State's Consumer Protection Act.
- Meta deceptively made public statements and promises about the safety of its products, their non-addictive nature, and the company's prioritization of users' well-being--directly contradicting Meta's own internal business practices and findings that undermined these statements, a deceptive business practice under the State's Consumer Protection Act.
- Meta's algorithms and design features used to target young children are defective products under the State's products liability law.
- Meta has also failed to inform parents and users about the dangerous features of these products and the risks posed with use, a separate violation of State law.
- Meta has negligently distributed its platforms to children of the State that baited them into excessive and compulsive use while failing to inform the users--and their parents--of the harms that could result.
The State's Complaint seeks to hold Meta liable for these practices and asks the Court to enter an injunction requiring substantive changes in how the company operates. The State also seeks penalties and other monetary relief in order to address the harms that these practices have caused and deter other companies from engaging in similar conduct. The Attorney General's investigation of other social media platforms for related practices continues.
The complaint, filed in connection with other lawsuits by 41 other state Attorneys General throughout the country, represents the culmination of a bipartisan, nationwide investigation that has been active since 2021. Nearly all the attorneys general in the country have worked together since that time to investigate Meta for providing and promoting its social media platforms to children despite the fact that the use of these platforms is associated with physical and mental health harms.