Social Media Victims Law Center lawsuit alleges that Instagram knowingly targets tweens and encourages 11-year-olds to open multiple accounts
Meta internal documents refer to children as “herd animals”
SAN FRANCISCO – June 7, 2022 – The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of teenage victims harmed by social media addiction and online abuse, announced that it has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Meta, Inc., parent company of Instagram, on behalf of Alexis Spence and her parents Kathleen and Jeffrey Spence.
The complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court Northern District of California (case number 3:22-cv-03294), alleges that Meta’s Instagram is responsible for Alexis’ addiction to Instagram resulting in anxiety, depression, self-harm, an eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts beginning when she was just 11 years old.
The suit alleges that Meta knowingly targets pre-teen users with a product designed to be addictive and that Instagram algorithms purposely direct young users, like Alexis, to harmful content.
In late 2021, a Facebook whistleblower disclosed thousands of internal Meta documents to the United States Securities Exchange Commission and Congress showing that Instagram purposefully targeted tweens calling them “herd animals” who “want to find communities where they can fit in.”
“Meta has consistently and knowingly placed its own profit over the health and welfare of its teen and underage users,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “These documents, including some that have not been previously disclosed to the public, show that Meta’s senior leadership knew that Instagram harms kids but consciously and callously chose profits over human life.”
“The social media giant spent millions of dollars researching and developing product features to attract and retain a steady stream of pre-teen users despite warnings from Meta employees that its products were addictive and harmful to its users,” he added.
Alexis, Kathleen and Jeffrey Spence v. Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook, Inc.
Before her Instagram addiction, Alexis was a confident and happy child, who loved reading, writing, and helping people and animals. She dreamt about becoming a veterinarian, was active in singing competitions and theater, enjoyed being in the spotlight and looked for opportunities to shine.
Alexis opened her first Instagram account when she was just 11 years old, without her parents’ consent. Almost immediately, Alexis was directed to sites promoting anorexia, negative body image and self-harm. Afraid of being caught, Alexis was able to find other users’ content explaining how to download an application that would disguise her Instagram icon as a calculator icon to hide her social media accounts from her parents. She eventually opened several Instagram accounts, including one using her school email address that had no inbox attached to the email account, showing that Instagram did not verify account user’s information. In documents publicly produced for the first time in this lawsuit, Meta references the practice by teen users opening multiple accounts to evade parental authority as a “value add proposition.”
Over time, Alexis developed an eating disorder after Instagram’s algorithm directed her to content that increasingly included underweight models, unhealthy eating and eating disorder content, eventually leading to mental heath problems and thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation. Meta’s own documents confirm that “66% of teen girls on IG experience negative social comparison.”
As a result of Alexis’ addiction to Instagram, she had to undergo professional counseling, in-patient programs, out-patient programs, participate in eating disorder programs and will likely require help in the form of a service dog for the rest of her life, as well as ongoing medical attention to ensure she does not digress.
For anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Victims of social media cyberbullying can contact SMVLC at www.socialmediavictims.org or by calling 1-800-834-6994.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection and the arts.
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.