A coalition of Attorney General from eight US states have launched an investigation into tactics used to target younger Instagram users and keep them hooked to the platform. The service has attracted a lot of heat over its algorithms that make it difficult for young users to get off the platform by delivering a barrage of content based on their interests and content consumption patterns. In particular, the platform’s negative effects on the mental health of its younger audience has attracted a lot of intense scrutiny lately.
As per internal research that was leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen, Meta, formerly Facebook, was well aware of Instagram’s toxic impact on teens, especially those battling body images issues, eating disorders, and social acceptance due to unrealistic body standards. The pressure of being popular on Instagram and its effects on mental wellness have been well-documented and, in a bid to ease some of the stress, Instagram allowed users to hide like counts so they can focus more on positive experiences and quality content.
Related: Instagram Users Can Now Choose How Much Sensitive Content They See
It appears that things are now escalating around Instagram’s alleged teen-targeting tactics. A bipartisan coalition of Attorneys Generals from eight US states (California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont) have launched a nationwide investigation into whether Meta promoted Instagram to children and young adults, despite knowing the physical and mental risks of the platform. To recall, a coalition of 44 Attorneys General previously sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg to request the scrapping of its “Instagram For Kids” project. The company eventually ‘paused’ development on the project as pressure mounted from politicians, regulatory authorities, rights advocates, child wellness activists, and concerned parents.
Yesterday, I announced we are co-leading a nationwide investigation into Meta for providing & promoting Instagram to children, despite knowing that such use is associated with physical and mental health harms.
Read more: https://t.co/fFtEIaB5cq pic.twitter.com/Iwa9Hgw2Nw
— Attorney General Daniel Cameron (@kyoag) November 19, 2021
A Reckoning For Instagram?
“When social media platforms treat our children as mere commodities to manipulate for longer screen time engagement and data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys general to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in an official statement. Attorneys General from other states have rallied behind the call to investigate tactics that Instagram may have used to increase the frequency of usage among its younger user base. In particular, how the “extended engagement” could be harming the target audience. The concerns are not unwarranted either. Facebook’s own internal research said that the company knew approximately 360 million users were struggling with compulsive usage, and to a point that equated to social media addiction.
“For too long, Meta has ignored the havoc that Instagram is wreaking on the mental health and well-being of our children and teens,” said California Attorney General Bonta, adding that “Enough is enough.” The bipartisan coalition will investigate whether Instagram violated state consumer protection laws and put children and young adults at risk by aggressively promoting its platform. Separate to the current investigation, social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat recently received a warning from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration over how their apps are facilitating the sale of drugs.