Skip to main content

Attorney General Clark Sues Meta for Instagram’s Harm to Teens’ Mental Health

October 24, 2023

Attorney General Charity Clark has sued Meta to hold the company accountable for its contribution to the mental health crisis that grips teens in America and Vermont. The lawsuit, which targets Instagram, alleges Meta designed Instagram to cause young people to use the platform compulsively and excessively. Meta did this to maximize the time young users spend on the platform in order to maximize the company’s advertising revenue. In addition to causing compulsive use, Instagram poses other serious mental health risks to youth, which Meta knows and continues to perpetuate. The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Clark is part of a coordinated national enforcement effort, of which Vermont is a leader, involving 42 attorneys general. The effort seeks to end Meta’s practice of addicting kids to harmful social media platforms and deceiving consumers about the platforms’ safety.

“Instagram’s harm to teens, and particularly girls and young women, is well-documented,” said Attorney General Clark, “But Meta has denied and downplayed these harmful impacts for continued profits. Meta knowingly designed and developed Instagram features to exploit teens’ vulnerabilities to maximize revenue. This is reprehensible and a violation of Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act. This lawsuit aims to hold Meta accountable.”

Meta owns and operates Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Horizon Worlds, and makes money primarily through advertising. The subject of today’s lawsuit, Instagram, is a highly sophisticated lure to draw consumers to advertisements. Because Meta generates revenue from Instagram by selling targeted advertising on the platform, Meta is incentivized to maximize the amount of time that Instagram users spend on the platform each day. The more time consumers spend on Instagram, the more advertising Meta can display to consumers and the more data Meta can collect about consumer’s personality and preferences to better target ads at them.

Meta profited by purposely making its platforms addictive to teens. Instagram’s algorithms push users into descending “rabbit holes” to maximize engagement. Meta designed features, like infinite scroll and numerous daily alerts, specifically to hook young users. These manipulative tactics continually lure teens back onto the platform, creating compulsive and excessive use.

Meta knew these addictive features harmed young people’s physical and mental health, including undermining their ability to get adequate sleep, but did not disclose the harm nor did they make meaningful changes to minimize the harm. Instead, they claimed their platforms were safe for young users.

Meta’s conduct is particularly egregious because Meta itself knows that Instagram exposes young users to a wide range of harmful content and harmful experiences, including negative social comparison, unwanted sexual advances, and bullying. Amid the mental health epidemic faced by American teens, Meta knowingly contributed to the crisis by designing its platform to exploit teens’ vulnerabilities and repeatedly expose teens to harmful content.

Attorney General Clark and the attorneys general in the following states have filed complaints in their respective state courts: the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah.

States joining a federal lawsuit 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.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.


Update as of 12/14/2023: A Vermont Superior Court has granted Attorney General Charity Clark’s request to unseal her lawsuit against Meta regarding Instagram’s harms to youth. The lawsuit is now fully available for public viewing here


CONTACT:   Lauren Jandl, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171