The families allege that Facebook-owned Instagram inappropriately shows young users images and content that could be addictive and spur eating disorders.
Two families have filed a lawsuit against Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram.
According to Reuters, the complaints allege that Meta’s social media platforms fuel eating disorders and other mental health conditions in children and teenagers.
Reuters reports that the plaintiff families, both represented by Laura Marquez-Garrett of the Social Media Victims Law Center, filed their complaints in federal court in San Francisco earlier this week. The lawsuits allege that Instagram caused the girls to become “addicted” to social media, and to develop depression, anxiety, and anorexia.
Meta did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
The complaints observe that Instagram allows users to post photographs, videos, and stories.
After creating an Instagram account, users’ activity and engagement trends are tracked and processed by an algorithm. The algorithm then recommends new content based on an individual’s activity pattern.
The lawsuits suggest that Instagram implicitly encourages eating disorders by showing vulnerable teenagers pictures of “very thin” models, as well as content related to “extreme” exercise regimens.
“[Plaintiff’s] social media use coincided with a steady, but severe, decline in her mental health,” the lawsuit states. “She was addicted to Instagram and could not stop using Instagram, even when the social media product was directing increasing amounts of harmful content and amplifying that harmful content via [Plaintiff’s] Instagram accounts and product features.”
“Specifically,” the lawsuit continues, “[Plaintiff] was repeatedly bombarded with and exposed to content recommended and/or made available to her by Meta, which increasingly included underweight models, unhealthy eating, and eating disorder content.”
Both of the plaintiff families state that their daughters have repeatedly attempted to commit suicide and have been hospitalized multiple times.
One of the children was forced to use a feeding tube because she otherwise refused to eat.
The families now claim that Instagram and its parent company, Meta, knew or should have known that people could become psychologically dependent on its services.
According to the families, Meta failed to properly verify users’ ages, allowing their children to create accounts when they were 12 years old, despite Instagram requiring that users be at least 13 years of age to create independent accounts.
Similarly, the complaints suggest that Meta takes inadequate measures to protect children from sexual predation, insofar as the social media platform recommended adult “friends” who were either suffering from eating-related mental health disorders or were actively seeking to find and exploit young girls.
Both lawsuits seek jury trials and unspecified monetary damages.