“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” This was the content of a slide shown during an internal meeting at Meta; the company that owns Facebook and Instagram. And while the company has actively denied its role in the lives of its youngest users, lawsuits are bringing internal documents and studies to light that show just how aware it is and how little it has done to help rectify the issue.
One lawsuit in particular was profiled by The Washington Post and shows the gaping difference between Meta’s public face and its internal structures that keep teens and young people glued to their phones and constantly re-evaluating their place in their social structures and society as a whole. “When I read the Facebook Papers, it made the asbestos companies look like choirboys,” said the attorney representing the family at the center of the lawsuit. A former advocate for asbestos victims, the attorney has founded the Social Media Victims Law Center. “It’s one thing to manufacture a product that you know or should have known is unsafe; it’s another thing to intentionally addict children, knowing that their frontal cortexes are undeveloped, with the sole intention of maximizing your profits.”
Those profits are wild beyond most people’s ability to comprehend them, and they stem predominantly from advertising revenue. Ads are served up largely through the harvesting of user data as every single interaction with a social media site or app is logged as a data point, as well as a user’s web surfing history and their activities while online. Those activities (and access to the users themselves) are then sold to marketing companies for the purposes of tailoring ads to specific users and groups.
Through all of that, however, are huge swaths of teens and young people who find echo chambers and other ways of exacerbating everything from self-harmful behaviors to eating disorders. And parents have had enough. According to the lawsuit, Meta “purposefully does not verify or check email account authenticity, at least in part, so that it can claim plausible deniability as to the millions of young children using its application that are below the age of 13.”