The Social Media Victims Law Centre, which is representing both families in court, has accused Instagram and its parent company Meta of causing depression in teenage girls in the lawsuits.
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In two new lawsuits, Instagram is charged with encouraging eating disorders and mental health issues in teenage girls, including addiction, anxiety, and depression.
According to the lawsuits, Meta, the parent corporation of Facebook and Instagram, should be held accountable for “causing and contributing to the burgeoning mental health crisis perpetrated upon the children and teenagers of the United States.”
In one lawsuit, Jennifer and Benjamin Martin of Kentucky claim that Instagram exposed their now 19-year-old daughter Alexandra Martin to “the ‘perfect storm’ of addiction, social comparison, and incredibly harmful content.”
“As a parent you feel hopeless,” Jennifer Martin told ABC News in an interview that aired Wednesday on “Good Morning America.” “You try to support them and you do what you can for them, but it’s hard to understand.”
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According to the lawsuit, Alexandra started using Instagram at the age of 12 and was “encouraged” by the service to create multiple profiles despite her age.
The lawsuit claims that after seeing Instagram posts on eating disorders, Alexandra started displaying signs of anxiety and depression.
“Around 2016, we noticed some extreme weight loss in her and then put the puzzle pieces together that it was a direct correlation to social media, more specifically Instagram,” Benjamin Martin told ABC News.
According to the lawsuit, Alexandra was later identified as having anorexia and required hospitalization and inpatient treatment to manage the condition. The lawsuit claims that Martin made two suicide attempts in 2019 and was hospitalized.
“Alex’s social media use coincided with a steady, but severe, decline in her mental health,” the lawsuit said. “She was addicted to Instagram and could not stop using Instagram, even when the social media product was directing increasing amounts of harmful content and amplifying that harmful content via Alex’s Instagram accounts and product features.”
“Specifically,” the lawsuit continues, “Alex was repeatedly bombarded with and exposed to content recommended and/or made available to her by Meta, which increasingly included underweight models, unhealthy eating, and eating disorder content.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit—Alexandra and her parents—asked for unspecified monetary damages.
The second lawsuit was brought by the Kentucky-based family of a girl named CN.
CN Wuest’s mother, Candace Wuest, claims in the lawsuit that she attempted suicide after becoming hooked to Instagram when she was 12 years old.
“CN’s use of Instagram developed into a dependency on the Instagram product and coincided with a steady, but severe, decline in her mental health,” the lawsuit said.
In a court document, it is stated that CN and her mother looked up recipes on Instagram to cook together, but CN was ultimately directed to “dangerous recipes—for example, recipes designed to achieve negative caloric intake.”
A 12-year-old girl named CN was “pushed down a dangerous rabbit hole” by Meta’s social media product, according to the lawsuit, which holds Meta accountable for strict liability, negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment, and unjust enrichment.
“Meta knows that its product is contributing to teen depression, anxiety, even suicide and self-harm. Why doesn’t it change these harmful product features and stop utilizing algorithms in connection, at least, with teen accounts? Because Meta’s priority is growth and competition concerns, and it sees ‘acquiring and retaining’ teens as essential to its survival,” the lawsuit said.
CN’s artwork that she used to express her eating disorder and depression was also shown in the lawsuit, along with comparative images that indicate the alleged change in CN’s looks and an unspecified amount of money in damages.
The Social Media Victims Law Center is representing both families in court.
In regard to the lawsuit brought forth by Alexandra Martin and her parents, Matthew Bergman, an attorney and founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center, told ABC News that “what happened to Alex was neither a coincidence or an accident but rather the known result of deliberate design decisions made by Instagram. “Their sole objective is to maximize user engagement.”
A Meta representative declined to comment on the two lawsuits on Tuesday, citing the fact that they are “active litigation.”
The spokesperson emphasized the general child safety measures that Instagram, according to them, provides, including help for those who struggle with body image issues, age verification, parental controls, lowering the visibility of potentially sensitive content, time control settings, default privacy settings, as well as in-app resources for mental health support.
The two court cases come a few weeks after the parents of a now-19-year-old New York woman also filed a lawsuit against Meta, claiming that their daughter became addicted to Instagram, which caused her to develop an eating disorder and other mental health issues.
The thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents that were made public by Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the tech corporation, are cited in both their case and the two additional lawsuits filed on Monday.
The Facebook Papers are a collection of the documents Haugen gave, which were published by The Wall Street Journal and a number of other publications in October 2021.
As ABC News reported last year, the documents showed Facebook had allegedly commissioned studies about the potential harm that negative or inflammatory content on its platforms was causing but did not take any action to stop it. This included researchers’ findings that Instagram had made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teens.
Haugen claimed that Facebook had overlooked worries about the negative effects their platforms could have on children’s mental health in testimony before Congress in October.
Haugen was described as “a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question,” according to a statement released by Meta in response to Haugen’s congressional testimony in October.
“We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” the company said.