CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire is among the states suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, over addictive features allegedly designed to hook children to the detriment of their mental health.
States like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut participated in a 33-state suit filed in the Northern District of California, while New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella filed a separate lawsuit in Merrimack Superior Court Tuesday against Meta for allegedly violating state consumer protection laws. Eight states and Washington, D.C., filed related actions in state and federal courts.
“[Meta] has broken and continues to break the mental health of our kids, and it’s time we put a stop to it,” Formella said at a press conference in Concord on Tuesday. He said New Hampshire has been particularly hard hit.
Formella said filing in state court will allow for more local control over the case, and he believes New Hampshire law is favorable. The goal of the lawsuit is to get Meta to stop what it alleges are harmful practices and make the platforms safe for children, which could include raising the minimum age from 13 to 16, Formella said.
“The state’s complaint alleges that Meta purposely designed its popular platforms Facebook and Instagram to include addictive features with the goal of enticing and prolonging time children spend scrolling on the platforms,” he said.
The complaint also alleged that when children try to get off the platform, it bombards them with alerts “intentionally designed to lure them back, all to trap them into continuing use of the platform,” according to Formella.
He said these designs exploit children’s vulnerabilities, and although Meta is aware of the harm to children, it has continued to target them by trying to extend the amount of time they spend online without alerting parents or users about the harm. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Meta has deceptively made public statements about the safety of its platforms. Legal action in New Hampshire stemmed from a coordinated multistate investigation into Meta’s practices.
The addictive features these lawsuits aim to stop include infinite scrolling, autoplay features, and near-constant notifications and alerts, which are a form of intermittent variable rewards that also are used to make slot machines addictive.
“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,” Meta said in a statement. “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 said children’s mental health has deteriorated in the past decade, as the use of social media has dramatically increased.
In New Hampshire, around 44 percent of high school students report feeling persistently sad or hopeless, a 75 percent increase compared to the past decade, according to data from the state’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. About 25 percent report considering suicide, while 10 percent have attempted it, which Formella said represents “astronomical increases” of 72 percent and 60 percent, respectively, over the past decade.
The attorney general started investigating Meta in 2021, reviewing thousands of documents, taking depositions, and seeking feedback from parents, teachers, and coaches about the impact of social media on children, according to Formella.
He said he has the authority to bring a liability claim on behalf of the people of New Hampshire because of recent changes to state law, in addition to a negligence claim.
“We will not tolerate the pursuit of profit at the expense of the mental health and the well-being of New Hampshire’s kids and America’s kids,” he said.
Governor Chris Sununu in June issued an executive order directing state agencies to develop curriculum addressing the harm of social media.
“This lawsuit against Meta marks a significant development in New Hampshire’s ongoing efforts and investigation of social media companies and the harms they perpetrate against the children of our State,” he said in a statement Tuesday.