Why is Meta Being Sued and What Effect Has its Technology Had on Local Students?
By Lucy Bikahi
American Journalism Student
As of October 2023, 40+ states are suing Meta for actively contributing to the youth mental health crisis through the technology offered on their social media apps, specifically Instagram. According to an NPR article, Meta is being accused of knowingly deceiving the public in regard to how safe their technology is and, as stated by the attorneys general, has “exploited and manipulated children.” Growing up on social media undoubtedly has an effect on those using it, regardless of how profound it may be from person to person.
In an exposé published in the Wall Street Journal in September of 2021, the newspaper reported that Facebook, now Meta, had conducted research on how Instagram affected the mental health of teenagers using the app. There were clear statistics featured in the article showing that the mental health of teenagers was being negatively affected. Despite having years worth of research on how their app was negatively affecting teenage users, Meta neglected making any significant changes to improve this issue, instead continuing to preach that it was good that their applications were bringing people together and that any negative impacts their applications were having were “quite small.”
Emma Dunbar, who has been an educator in SFUSD for 15+ years, sat down for an interview to discuss the impact she has seen social media has had on teenagers’ mental health with the rise of social media. When as if Meta’s applications have had an effect on teenage mental health, Ms. Dunbar answers, “Oh for sure. Basically all school discipline is now attached to social media, and there’s a ton more school discipline. So there’s more mental health [issues] in addition to that discipline,” Ms Dunbar says, speaking from experience as a former principal. One example she gives of the way teens are now utilizing Instagram are massive anonymous group chats that essentially function as online burn books. “Instagram won’t take anything down unless there’s a threat to life, so these massive toxic group chats exist and they really can’t be controlled.”
The effects of growing up on social media carry on far past grade school; students who started using social media in middle and high school continue using it through college as it becomes deeply ingrained in users’ lives. “People try to post the best versions of themselves, like a life half of them probably don’t have, and it makes you jealous. It makes you want certain things you think you should have or that you’re not good enough if you don’t have it,” says SMC junior Abigail Burrell, who has been on Instagram since seventh grade. “Seeing what other people post sets these expectations in my mind, it makes me more conscious of what I post,” says SMC junior Jerin Philip, who has been on Instagram since high school. While it’s a more subtle effect than what is being seen in San Francisco’s school district, growing up on Instagram has caused people to obtain a sense of constant comparison as second nature.
Meta was contacted for a comment, with a link to the WSJ article included in this article along with interview questions. A response was never received.
Madison Sciba '24,