State AGs open investigation into Instagram's effect on teens

Officials want to know if Instagram is hurting its youngest users.

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A teenage girl sits in bed and drinks tea. Uses a mobile phone. A woman is texting on social networks using a smartphone.
Olha Romaniuk via Getty Images

Meta's efforts to encourage healthy teen usage habits aren't enough for some state officials. The New York Times reports a coalition of state attorneys general has launched an investigation into Instagram's effects on teens. California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Vermont are concerned Meta might be offering and promoting Instagram to the younger crowd while knowing the potentials for mental and physical harm. If so, the social media giant might violate states' consumer protection laws.

The investigators are most worried about Meta's techniques to boost the "frequency and duration" of interactions at the expense of teens. Leaked internal research showed that Instagram hurt a significant percentage of teens, particularly girls, resulting in issues ranging from depression to self-harm.

A Meta spokesperson told Engadget the accusations were "false" and showed a "deep misunderstanding" of the situation. You can read the full statement below. It previously shared research data and claimed the leak misrepresented its work,providing "context" suggesting that certain information couldn't be used to reach conclusions about average behavior or links to mental and physical harm.

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Meta has taken some steps to address worries, including encouragements to take breaks and "pausing" work on Instagram Kids. There's also no certainty the probe will lead to more substantive action. Nonetheless, the company is under much more pressure to safeguard teens — it could face legal repercussions if the states don't feel it has done enough.

These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts. While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders. We continue to build new features to help people who might be dealing with negative social comparisons or body image issues, including our new 'Take a Break' feature and ways to nudge them towards other types of content if they're stuck on one topic. We continue to develop parental supervision controls and are exploring ways to provide even more age-appropriate experiences for teens by default.

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State AGs open investigation into Instagram's effect on teens