By Sophie Foster
In a rare bipartisan endeavor, 42 attorneys general from 33 different states are currently suing social media mega-corporation Meta — and it is hard to say whether or not the fight is worthwhile.
According to CNBC, those suing infamous billionaire and technology giant Mark Zuckerberg’s company are doing so on the basis that its platforms Facebook and Instagram are both addictive and directed at children and teenagers.
This lawsuit is based in the Northern District of California, with nine additional attorneys general filing lawsuits in other states, including the East Coast’s New York and South Carolina.
This is not the first time state attorneys general have gone head to head with Meta. In 2020, the company was sued on the grounds of antitrust amid a simultaneous complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, according to CNBC.
Those suing allege that Meta’s products are designed to keep young users coming back and engaging long-term, which is not an inherently bad on its own. However, the involved attorneys general claim algorithmic functioning, overwhelming notification and alert numbers, heavy filters, and “like” features promoting insecurity are deeply harmful for the youth exposed to them. They also argue that Meta has violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting data on minors without parental consent.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “this is complex legal and regulatory terrain, and the states’ lawsuits are not a sure bet given existing laws that protect online platform companies from being held liable for content posted by users on their sites…[but] this is an essential fight for the future.”
It is the bipartisan support that should have Meta worried, especially in the wake of ongoing, comparable accusations directed at popular social media platform TikTok.
“This is a tough time in America,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said at a press conference, according to CNBC. “We have polarization the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil War. And so for all of the attorneys general from both parties, people who frequently disagree very vocally and very publicly, to all come together and to move in the same direction, I think that says something.”
That polarization, while overstated by Skrmetti — the United States has always been an especially politically divided nation — actually perhaps points to the one tick in the box of Meta’s favor among young, impressionable audiences: access to community dialogues and educational tools that they did not previously have in their arsenal before social media.
Of course, that is not distinct to Meta’s platforms. Equally applicable to TikTok and Elon Musk-owned Twitter-turned-X, it is just as accurate to assert that social media unifies and uplifts young people as it is to argue that it divides and harms them.
In an era where many of our biggest news networks are consistently being outed for spreading misinformation, social media gives its users the opportunity to interact with those from a diversity of backgrounds with a vast range of knowledge bases.
This ability is critical. According to Al Jazeera, “the sophistication and violent impact of U.S. information operations have come a long way since the Uncle Sam posters of World War I” and “soft power require[s] the containment of bad news.”
With minimal control over the dialogues transpiring on social media platforms, the U.S. has lost some of that ability to shape narratives conveniently. This led to pronounced growth in civil liberties and human rights movements, including the Black Lives Matter, pro-choice, and Free Palestine initiatives, at largest scale in recent years. People have access to constant flows of valuable information like never before.
There are, of course, equal dangers to this notion. Sites like Qanon and Reddit, as well as dangerous offshoots on X, Instagram, and Facebook also play their roles in spreading highly damaging misinformation about sociopolitical issues. There is, inarguably, a case to be addressed urgently in those circumstances.
Maybe instead of condemning access to community, though, state representatives should focus on educating youth in schools on propaganda discernment and media literacy — of course, their unwillingness there comes from the certainty that the U.S. may not look so bright and shiny to most anymore. It is easier to point a finger than to take accountability.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo caption: Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of social media conglomerate Meta, and is among the biggest names in technology spheres today.