On Oct. 24, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, along with 41 other attorneys general across the United States, sued Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook. The lawsuit claims Meta created a business model that focuses on maximizing the time and attention young users spend on its platforms while implementing harmful and manipulative product features to prolong usage.
It also alleged the company knowingly collected data from users under the age of 13 without parental consent — which is in direct violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
"A whole generation of young people struggle with their health and safety because companies are trying to make an extra dollar,” Stein said in a press release. “I am bringing this action to demand that Meta do better and not exploit our children."
Sam Hiner, a co-founder and executive director of Young People’s Alliance, said almost all young people have been affected by social media in some way.
Hiner said the issue is that social media companies, like Meta, collect as much data as they can to create personalized feeds aimed at keeping people online for as long as possible. One major implication of these algorithms, he said, is disordered eating and body image issues in many adolescents. He said some individuals already feeling insecurities about their body or eating patterns often pay more attention to healthy eating posts, which in turn causes more healthy eating posts to be suggested.
He also said many people might see the manipulation of social media sites as a personal failing rather than a policy issue.
“I realized that it's not just me, it's everyone — and it's because these apps are designed by some of the smartest people on the planet working on designing these apps in a way to be as addictive as possible,” Hiner said.
Because companies will likely not regulate these algorithms themselves, he said he believes the only real solution is to directly say in the law that companies cannot use user data in their algorithms to filter content.
Rosa Li, a teaching assistant professor at UNC and a researcher at the Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain, and Psychological Development, said she finds it highly unlikely that social media companies would voluntarily take steps to decrease their profits without having external pressures — like the lawsuit.