The Bulletin Board

New Hampshire sues Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram

By: - October 24, 2023 1:15 pm
NH Department of Justice building

The Charitable Trusts Unit of the New Hampshire Department of Justice is opposed to Senate Bill 302. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

New Hampshire’s attorney general is suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook, in state superior court, alleging the company is violating the state’s consumer protection law by making products addictive for children.

In a complaint filed in Merrimack Superior Court Tuesday, Attorney General John Formella said Facebook, Instagram, and other Meta products have led to a deterioration of mental health for children in the state and that the company has not been truthful to the public about the harmfulness of the platforms.

Formella is asking the superior court to prevent Meta from engaging in deceptive practices around its products; pay restitution to impacted consumers; and compensate the state in an amount to be determined by the court. The state is demanding a jury trial at superior court. 

“Increasingly, New Hampshire’s children are having to fight for their own time and attention against the ever-increasing pull of social media apps, like Meta’s flagship products Facebook and Instagram,” the lawsuit states. “This fight isn’t a fair one: the odds have been stacked against New Hampshire families by Meta’s experimental use of psychology, neurology, and manipulative design tactics to build apps that children cannot resist.”

The lawsuit is part of a coordinated effort by 42 state attorneys general Tuesday to sue Meta.

In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for Meta said the company had already responded to the concerns laid out in the lawsuits.

“We share the attorneys general’s commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families,” the spokesperson said. “We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”

Formella argued that specific features on Facebook and Instagram, including “dopamine-manipulating personalization algorithms,” phone alerts, the “infinite scroll” format of the app, and videos that play automatically, count as psychological tactics “designed to defeat children’s attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s platforms.”

The addictiveness has led to sleep loss, feelings of social isolation, depression and suicidal ideation among some adolescents, the lawsuit states, citing warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General. 

The lawsuit is based in part on testimony by a Facebook whistleblower, Francis Haugen, who has detailed what she said were instances of Facebook executives ignoring evidence of harm to children. Haugen’s allegations were first published in a 2021 Wall Street Journal investigation known as the “Facebook Files.” She alleged that Meta also selectively released user data to downplay those effects to the public.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]