A family is suing Meta, saying that the company’s social media products caused their daughter to develop an eating disorder and to struggle with self-harm and suicidal ideation.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the company of targeting young social media users with addictive products like Instagram, where they could be exposed to harmful content, according to a news release from the Social Media Victims Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents.
At the center of the lawsuit is a now-19-year-old who began using Instagram when she was 11 years old. Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old to open an account, according to the company’s website.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News. The company told NBC News that it would not comment on the family’s lawsuit, citing “active litigation.”
The daughter began using the social media network without her parents’ consent and was quickly “directed to sites promoting anorexia, negative body image and self-harm,” the Social Media Victims Law Center said in the release.
The girl was afraid of being caught by her parents and found content from other users on the platform explaining how to disguise the Instagram app icon as a picture of a calculator, the lawsuit said.
“As a proximate result of Instagram’s addictive design and (the girl’s) addiction to the Instagram social media product, she lied to and tricked her parents,” the lawsuit said. “She felt guilty for her actions, but also felt like Instagram was something she needed and that her parents were being unreasonable in denying her access.”
She ”eventually opened several Instagram accounts,” including one that was tied to a school email account that had no inbox, showing that the company was not requiring her to verify her information, the release said.
Since developing an “addiction” to the app, the daughter has struggled with depression, an eating disorder and anxiety, the release says.
The lawsuit also alleges that her parents “were emotionally and financially harmed by Meta’s addictive design and continued and harmful distribution and/or provision of multiple Instagram accounts to their minor child.”
The lawsuit also references internal documents from Facebook – now Meta – from late 2021. The “Facebook Papers” allegedly revealed that the company was aware ”of its effects on society,” NPR reported at the time.
The documents also acknowledged that the company was aware users under 13 were using its products, the lawsuit said.
“The social media giant spent millions of dollars researching and developing product features to attract and retain a steady stream of pre-teen users despite warnings from Meta employees that its products were addictive and harmful to its users,” Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of Social Media Victims Law Center, said in the release.
In a September statement, the company denied such claims, saying that many teenage girls also said the platforms improved their mental health and self-image and that the leaked documents did not prove Facebook or Instagram are “‘toxic’ for teen girls.”
As a result of her social media use, the 19-year-old has had to “undergo professional counseling, in-patient programs, out-patient programs, participate in eating disorder programs and will likely require help in the form of a service dog for the rest of her life, as well as ongoing medical attention to ensure she does not digress,” the Social Media Victims Law Center said.
Her mother told Good Morning America that the changes in her daughter’s behavior that began when she started using Instagram were noticeable but that she and her husband were unaware of their cause.
“When (she) first started going on Instagram without our consent or knowledge at 11 years old, we didn’t know what was going on,” she told the outlet. “We just know that our daughter was disappearing. Slowly, piece by piece, we were losing our confident, loving child, and she was becoming depressed, angry, withdrawn.”
She added that she and her husband didn’t fully understand the potential connection between Instagram and their daughter’s mental health until the Facebook Papers were leaked, the outlet reported.
Meta is currently facing at least 7 other lawsuits accusing the company of damaging teenagers’ mental health, Insider reported. Those lawsuits have been filed in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, the outlet reported.