Meta ‘knowingly designed its platforms to hook children’, court document claims

27 November 2023, 08:34

Young boy using a computer
Young boy doing his homework on a computer. Picture: PA

The complaint emerged in an unsealed legal document seen by two US newspapers.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms deliberately engineered its social platforms to hook minors and knew – but never disclosed – it had received millions of complaints about under-age users on Instagram but only disabled a fraction of those accounts, according to reports.

The complaint emerged in a newly unsealed legal document, described in reports by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The complaint, originally made public in redacted form, was the opening salvo in a lawsuit filed in late October by the attorneys general of 33 US states.

Company documents cited in the complaint described several Meta officials acknowledging the company designed its products to exploit shortcomings in youthful psychology such as impulsive behaviour, susceptibility to peer pressure and the underestimation of risks, according to the reports.

Others acknowledged Facebook and Instagram also were popular with children under the age of 13 who, per company policy, were not allowed to use the service.

Facebook
Company policy is for under-age children not to have access to the service (AP)

Meta said in a statement to The Associated Press that the complaint misrepresents its work over the past decade to make the online experience safe for teenagers, noting it has “over 30 tools to support them and their parents”.

With respect to barring younger users from the service, Meta argued age verification is a “complex industry challenge”.

Instead, Meta said it favours shifting the burden of policing under-age usage to app stores and parents, specifically by supporting federal legislation that would require app stores to obtain parental approval whenever youths under 16 download apps.

One Facebook safety executive alluded to the possibility that cracking down on younger users might hurt the company’s business in a 2019 email, according to the Journal report.

But a year later, the same executive expressed frustration that while Facebook readily studied the usage of under-age users for business reasons, it did not show the same enthusiasm for ways to identify younger children and remove them from its platforms, the Journal reported.

The complaint noted that at times Meta has a backlog of up to 2.5 million accounts of youngsters awaiting action, according to the newspaper reports.

By Press Association

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