The lawsuit challenges Meta/Instagram’s exploitative platform features, which it alleges were developed and honed to take advantage of developmental vulnerabilities in young users’ brains; “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” notes Instagram’s own internal report.
San Francisco—(BUSINESSWIRE)—On September 1, 2022, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP and Protectus Law filed a federal injury lawsuit in Utah on behalf of Mandy and Douglas Westwood and their minor daughter, B.W., a teen Instagram user, alleging that Instagram/Meta/Facebook’s Instagram platform is designed to hook young users like B.W in a manner that endangers their health and welfare, leading B.W. and many others to suffer from severe eating disorders such as anorexia.
“Our daughter was happy, healthy, and confident entering her teenage years, and our relationship with her was strong,” stated Douglas Westwood, B.W.’s father. “When she was introduced to Instagram, things started to change, and her well-being went into a downward spiral. She became anorexic, and hospitalizations and therapy followed, with out-of-control medical bills. When we read the account of the whistleblower that Facebook/Instagram was deliberately targeting young teenagers with its harmful design, we were horrified. This needs to end now and Facebook/Instagram should be held responsible for its conduct.”
“Instagram has profited off of young people’s vulnerabilities for long enough,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Lexi Hazam, who represents the plaintiffs in the case. “The Instagram platform is insidiously designed to exploit the developing brains and insecurities of young users to keep them ‘engaged’ and on the service for as often and as long as possible, harming their mental and physical health. The death rate for anorexia is higher than for all other causes of death for adolescent females.”
As detailed in the complaint, studies and internal documents from Instagram “confirmed what social scientists have long suspected: social media products like Instagram—and Instagram in particular—can cause serious harm to the mental and physical health of young users, especially to teenage girls like B.W.. Worse, this capacity for harm is not accidental but by design: what makes Instagram a profitable enterprise for Meta is precisely what harms its young users.”
“There are roughly 160 million Instagram users in the U.S.,” notes Protectus Law partner Neal Roberts, who also represents the plaintiffs in the suit. “About 22 million of those users are teenagers using Instagram daily as the app is particularly popular among young people. And as their attention-generated ad revenue swells, the health and well-being of many adolescents deteriorates. Over 90% of those suffering from eating disorders are adolescents, and 20% of those with anorexia will die prematurely from complications associated with it. This lawsuit aims to rectify the harms of Instagram’s defective design on our vulnerable young.” As noted in the Complaint, Meta/Instagram earned nearly $70 billion from ad revenue in 2019 alone. “The success of this business model depends on Meta’s ability to keep its users on its products (and thus exposed to its clients’ advertising) for as long and as often as possible.”
“Once young users are hooked, according to the ‘mental health deep dive’ performed by Meta’s researchers using survey data as well as data generated by its products, ‘[a]spects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm’ that endangers young users’ mental health. These aspects include specific design choices by Instagram, such as the ‘Explore’ feature (which ‘serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm’ and ‘can send users deep into content that can be harmful’) and ‘selfie filters’ (which can ‘touch up’ users’ faces in their pictures), as well as patterns of common use that Instagram exploits through these design choices (‘[t]he tendency to share only the best moments’ and ‘a pressure to look perfect’). The researchers concluded that this ‘perfect storm’ could contribute to eating disorders, unhealthy body image, and depression among teens.”
–Complaint, p. 3.
Further, the researchers found that “[s]ocial comparison,” or peoples’ assessment of their own value relative to that of others, is “worse on Instagram” for teens than on other social media platforms. One in five teens reported that Instagram “makes them feel worse about themselves.” Roughly two in five teen users reported feeling “unattractive,” while one in ten teen users reporting suicidal thoughts traced them to Instagram. Teens “consistently” and without prompting blamed Instagram “for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” And though teens point to Instagram as a source of psychological harm, they often lack the self-control to use Instagram less. According to Meta’s researchers, teens “often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”
–Complaint, p. 4.
The lawsuit makes claims that include strict products liability for defective design, failure to warn, negligence, fraudulent concealment, negligent nondisclosure, and deceptive and unconscionable business practices, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as all other just and proper relief.
Lexi J. Hazam
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Neal A. Roberts