N.H. sues Facebook, Instagram for being ‘addictive’ sites that harm children

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 10-24-2023 12:16 PM

New Hampshire has joined 41 other states suing Facebook and Instagram for using “addictive” algorithms that “exploit the developmental vulnerabilities of children and trap them into never-ending use.”

 The complaint filed in Merrimack County Superior Court alleges that Meta, the sites’ parent company, “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.”

It echoes complaints filed Thursday by attorney generals of both political parties from states throughout the county. Thirty-three filed a federal suit against Meta in the Northern District of California, while 9 others including  New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella filed in their own state courts.

“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,” Formella said in a prepared statement.

“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,” he said.

The complaint contains five counts, including allegations that “Meta intentionally deployed addictive design features,” that its features are “defective products under the state’s products liability law”; and that it “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.”

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The filing asks the court to enter an injunction requiring substantive changes in how the company operates, and also seeks monetary penalties.

The Attorney General’s Office says it continues to investigate other social media platforms for related practices.