President Joe Biden reignited the spark. In February, he made a fervent plea in Congress. It was his much-anticipated State of the Union address. Despite the pervasive influence of social media behemoths like Meta, Mr Biden told Congress how tech titans are ruining the mental health of American children. He was urging senators and representatives to enact an appropriate bipartisan law to make social media companies accountable.
Attorneys General File a Suit
The spark did not take much time to turn into a rising tide of anger in America’s states. On October 24th, a lawsuit signed by 33 state attorneys general was filed against Meta in California. In the suit, the states argue that Meta, despite knowing what it is doing and how it is harming the mental health of children, built features on its platforms to lure them to visit and get hooked on Facebook and Instagram. The remaining nine states joined in later. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/10/24/m eta-lawsuit-facebook-instagram-children-mental-health/
Looking back, more than 100 families filed a master complaint against social-media companies, including Meta, early this year. The accused companies also include Google, Snapchat and China’s ByteDance that owns TikTok. The case is on. As states turn more agitated now, American politicians too do not want to be seen as insensitive. Realising where the wind is blowing, the attorneys general filed the suit on October 24th.
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Serious Enough to Worry About
Aware of the anger among states and congressmen, Meta had launched its perception-correction propaganda assuring Americans that the anti-Meta group is more wrong than right. The ongoing campaign tells Americans that their Meta-using children are perfectly safe. Not convinced, the aggrieved states have now sued Meta. The suing states also say that Meta should be accused of violating consumer protection laws across the United States. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/24/tech/states-sue- instagram-parent-meta/index.html
Supporting this charge, the suit cites how Meta has been luring American children to its platforms and misleading their parents about safety. The suit goes on to arraign Meta in the court for having “designed psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended use” of its platforms. The charges are serious enough to worry Meta and its founder-chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg.
Crossfire of Complaints and Defences
More details are flowing in. The agitated states have pointed fingers at Meta’s algorithmically-sorted main feeds, which they say have been designed to hook American children. The suit also covers Meta’s wilful and unrepentant infringement of federal privacy laws. The implication is that Meta is continuing to assemble unauthorised “personal data of its youngest users” without the consent of their parents. The charges are grave enough. https://www.theverge.com/2023/7/25/23807340/threads- following-feed-for-you-default-instagram-meta
The 233-page federal complaint accuses Meta of profiteering at the expense of America’s future generations and their mental health. Meta has retorted saying that it has launched more than two dozen tools to protect children. In the crossfire of complaints and defences, charges and counter-arguments, logic and rationale have been lost. The whole Meta-suit saga reeks of pernicious politics than noble intentions.
Throwing the Baby with Bath Water
The reasoning is simple. Tobacco and alcohol too are addictive. Yet, peddling them is a perfectly legitimate business activity. They too can harm children by ramming them into ‘toxic rabbit holes’. However, parental care is exercised to keep the children away from them. It is that easy. More parental controls and restraints are needed in case of addictive social media platforms too. As expected, Meta is arguing how filing the federal suit is wrong. https://vpnoverview.com/internet-safety/kids-online/is- instagram-safe-for-kids/
Unfazed by the suit, Meta issued a statement saying “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, this path has been chosen.” Instead of building appropriate checks and balances to make their platforms safer for children, suing the companies may be akin to throwing the baby with bath water.
Politics Behind the Complaint
If tobacco and alcohol companies are not sued for peddling their addictive stuff, why sue Meta? Why different standards for Meta and other social media companies? If presence of parental control is cited as the reason for not suing alcohol and tobacco companies, why not legislate laws to make social media safer for children instead of suing them? Why not enact more laws to fortify parental checks and monitoring for social platforms? https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article= 2030&context=honorstheses
If 42 states can come together to put Meta in the dock, such a collective co-ordinated effort shows that American politics, notorious for its divisiveness, is behind the complaint. If Meta’s platforms were harmful to children, why were their formats allowed in the first place? Why was Meta permitted to grow into an overwhelming social-media behemoth? What were the 42 states doing for so long? Why were they all waiting for Meta’s Facebook and Instagram to grow so big?
Reeks of Hobblesome Politics
Why did they wake up only after Utah and California had legislated to enhance protection of children surfing social-media platforms? Since when have Britain been seen by the federal states as a worthy example to emulate? Why can’t the federal states make it mandatory for Meta and its ilk to enable auto-shutdown notifications for children after a pre-fixed time at the end of the day? None of these have been attempted so far. https://www.dglaw.com/utahs-first-of-its-kind-social-media- laws-impose-sweeping-protections-for-kids-and- teens/#:~:text=But%2C%20taken%20together%2C%20the%2 0California,certainly%20receiving%20increased%20regulatory% 20attention.
Yet, rushing to sue Meta reeks of hobblesome politics than honest intent and concern for children’s mental health. Congress can argue that attempts to enact social-media safety laws have always been be frustrated by lobbying by tech titans like Meta. What then stops the congress from forming pressure groups and counter-lobbies to checkmate recalcitrant social-media players? No answers and it is only disruptive politics at work again.
The Story Since Early 2021
Meta is also to be blamed for a different reason. The story begins early 2021, when Meta said it would launch Instagram Kids for those under 13. At once, this hasty declaration raised hackles among assorted American rights groups for children. The angered included crusading lawyers, non-profit organisations and other such groups working for the welfare of American children. https://trendingreader.com/instagram-for- under-13-years-age-kids/
The non-profit entities and the attorney generals of many states lost no time then to shoot off an angry missive to Mr Zuckerberg. The missive focused on his failure to safeguard American children and demanded the cancellation of his plan to launch Instagram Kids. The activists argue that though the campaign has been building up since then, it is only now that it has found its way to the federal court in the form of a suit by as many as 42 states.
Why Invoke Consumer Laws
Interestingly, the suing states are demanding financial damages too from Meta. If protection of children’s mental health is the issue, how would damages stop the malady? Can punitive damages restrain cash-rich Meta from doing what it does best? Why invoke consumer protection laws to resolve an issue of inadequate parental checks and guidance? The real solution lies in making Meta and its ilk really more children-safe.
The Poliphoon’s Last Word
So many unanswered questions crying out for answers. As the Meta suit challenges logic and defies rationale, it may fail to find the real solution to the vexing issue of American children’s mental health. Meanwhile, politics over Meta and its ilk will rage on. Meta is sure to fight back and it has the resources to do that. However, in the litany of abusive lawsuits and counter-suits, the rights and safety of American children are bound to go unheard. It is politics as usual in the divided states of America.