Internal documents have surfaced as part of a legal battle against Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, revealing that CEO Mark Zuckerberg often rejected senior executives’ recommendations to prioritize the mental health of young users on its platforms, Facebook and Instagram.
CNN has reported on Zuckerberg’s consistent refusal to implement changes aimed at bettering the mental welfare of teenage users, despite proposals by top executives within the company. This has brought Meta’s dedication to its users’ health into question.
The legal action against Meta involves a multitude of states; 33 states allege that Meta intentionally crafted addictive features on Facebook and Instagram to hook children and teens. Additionally, nine other attorneys general have launched separate lawsuits, making a total of 42 states challenging Meta on these grounds. The suits also claim that Meta has been unlawfully collecting data from children under the age of 13 and implicating the tech giant in exacerbating the youth mental health crisis.
One key example of Zuckerberg’s controversial decisions was his choice to block a move to disable the “beauty filters” on Instagram in 2019. These filters have been scrutinized for promoting unrealistic beauty standards and exacerbating mental health issues among teenagers. Despite support for the measure from significant figures like Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri and the company’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, Zuckerberg decided against the move, citing both user demand and a supposed lack of data on negative impacts.
Contrary to Zuckerberg’s assertions of insufficient evidence, internal research highlighted by The Wall Street Journal indicates that Instagram’s impact on young girls’ self-image is notably detrimental. The internal findings revealed that 32% of teen girls felt worse about their body image due to Instagram, with one in three teen girls reporting that Instagram worsened their body image issues. Furthermore, the research linked a percentage of British and American teen users’ suicidal thoughts directly to their use of Instagram.
Meta has responded to these alarming revelations. Spokesperson Andy Stone defended the company, noting the widespread use of such filters across social media and on smartphones. Stone also drew attention to Meta’s policies against filters that promote plastic surgery, skin color alteration, or extreme weight loss, and pointed to initiatives aimed at aiding teens and their families, including screen-time management tools and the ability to hide like counts on posts. Despite these defenses, the lawsuit and the unsealed documents have cast a spotlight on Meta’s internal conflicts and the ongoing debate over social media’s responsibility for user mental health.