State attorneys general launch probe into Instagram's impact on children, teens

State attorneys general are investigating whether Instagram’s parent company violated consumer protection laws by promoting the social media app to young users despite knowing its use is associated with harming their health. 

The investigation, announced Thursday, comes after Facebook, now under the parent name Meta, has experienced weeks of backlash over its impact on kids and teens following a document leak by a company whistleblower that included internal research showing the negative effect of the company's platforms on young users. 

“Doesn’t make a difference if you call it Instagram, Facebook, or Meta, the fact still remains the same: These social media platforms are extremely dangerous and have been proven to cause both physical and mental harm in young people,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement. “Time and again, Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny Meta exec who co-founded Diem digital currency leaving the company Two lawyers who filed suit challenging election results ordered to pay nearly 7K MORE and the companies he run have put profits over safety, but our investigation seeks to end that behavior.”

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James said the coalition of attorneys general “will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary” to protect kids and teens from the harmful impacts of social media platforms.

The effort is bipartisan, with attorneys generals from Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont involved in leading the probe.  

A Meta spokesperson said “these accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts,” and touted features the platform has put in place to help users “who might be dealing with negative social comparisons or body image issue.”

“While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

The company has previously pushed back on accusations that its products are harmful for teens and children, or that it knowingly ignored research indicating that they are. 

Meta has dismissed the documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen as mischaracterizing internal research. 

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The leaked documents led to a series of Senate Commerce subcommittee hearings on the topic, including one with a Facebook executive, who faced a barrage of questions about the company's impact on youth and the leaked documents. 

Haugen testified before senators as well, and the panel later called in executives from Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok to discuss the effects of their platforms on young users. 

James, who is running for governor in New York, has pressed Instagram on the topic before. She joined 44 attorneys general in May as part of push urging the company to rethink plans to launch an Instagram for children under 13. 

The social media giant said in September that it would be pausing those launch plans, but critics have continued to urge the company to abandon the proposal altogether.

Updated at 4 p.m.