SAN FRANCISCO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today co-led a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general in filing a federal lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. and affiliates (Meta). Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit alleges that Meta, among other things, designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment. The attorneys general are seeking injunctive and monetary relief to address Meta’s misconduct. As part of this coordinated effort, eight attorneys general announced filing lawsuits against Meta today in their respective state courts.
The federal and state complaints are the result of a nationwide investigation that Attorney General Bonta announced on November 18, 2021.
“Our bipartisan investigation has arrived at a solemn conclusion: Meta has been harming our children and teens, cultivating addiction to boost corporate profits,” said Attorney General Bonta. “With today’s lawsuit, we are drawing the line. We must protect our children and we will not back down from this fight. I am grateful for the collaboration of my fellow state attorneys general in standing up for our children and holding Meta accountable.”
In today’s lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta alleges that Meta violated federal and state laws, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), California’s False Advertising Law (FAL), and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). COPPA is a federal law that protects the online privacy of children under 13 years old. California’s FAL prohibits false and misleading advertising. California’s UCL prohibits unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.
According to the federal complaint, Meta’s misconduct included the following:
- Creating a business model focused on maximizing young users’ time on its platforms.
- Employing harmful and psychologically manipulative platform features while misleading the public about the safety of those features.
- Publishing reports purporting to show misleadingly low rates of user harms.
- In spite of the overwhelming evidence linking its platforms to young user harms, refusing to address those harms while continuing to conceal and downplay its platforms’ adverse effects.
While much of the complaint includes information conditionally under seal as part of the investigation by the attorneys general, publicly available sources — including evidence disclosed by former Meta employees — also detail Meta’s efforts to attract young users and make its platforms addictive to children and teens. For example, the Wall Street Journal published an internal Facebook document in 2021 that said the following about young users: “They are a valuable but untapped audience.”
In addition to the lawsuit filed today against Meta, Attorney General Bonta has an ongoing investigation into TikTok for harms to youth associated with the use of its platform. On March 5, 2023, Attorney General Bonta filed an amicus brief supporting efforts to compel TikTok to produce subpoenaed materials and evidence. The TikTok investigation remains ongoing.
States joining today’s federal lawsuit against Meta are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Florida is filing its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. They are joined by the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont, which have filed related actions in state court.
A copy of the federal lawsuit can be found here.