Depression, insomnia, learning disorders, anxiety, various forms of addiction – these are the effects that the use of social media may have on the young generation. At least that’s the opinion of prosecutors in more than half of American states, who believe that Meta (formerly Facebook) products have led to a major mental health crisis.
A joint lawsuit was filed by as many as 33 states, but the case does not end there, as nine others are preparing for their own legal battles with Mark Zuckenberg’s empire. The court documents refer to the “entrapment of teenagers” and the use of powerful technologies for addictive purposes without regard to the consequences of such actions. Meta is responsible for consent to cyberbullying, an increase in cases of depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm, disruption of dreams and other negative phenomena. At least that’s what Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul says. In addition, Meta is accused of collecting personal data of children under 13 without parental consent.
In the ocean of Big Data
Nowadays, no one needs to be convinced about the influence of social media on the human psyche. Not even about the fact that algorithms analyze our personal interests for marketing purposes. Each of us has received and continues to receive personalized advertising, taking into account our likes and preferences. Their accuracy is often surprising. There is a lot of data collected about us. Only Meta has four platforms with at least a billion users: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. And yet there is also Google with YouTube, TikTok, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
However, let’s be honest – we have provided and continue to provide most of the information about us to social media platforms voluntarily. They are then analyzed by social media, which improve their algorithms primarily to maximize profits. In the case of adults, however, it can be argued that users know what they are doing and that they make decisions about revealing themselves on social media platforms at their own discretion. However, a minor is different. Prosecutors say Meta collected and used information about children and teenagers without their parents’ consent and used it to monetize its activities. The plaintiff’s psychologists talk about illegal data collection and activities that contributed to lowering children’s self-esteem. There are high-profile cases of suicide among young people suffering from depression and a sense of alienation intensified by social media. It is a kind of irony that we often learn about them from… social networking sites.
In Norway, Meta was fined for violating privacy by tracking users on Instagram and Facebook and then using the collected information for marketing purposes. The local Data Protection Office stated that information regarding the whereabouts of people using social media, their age, gender, place of residence, personal views and interests was illegally analyzed.
Not only Meta
Meta is not the only high tech company being sued because of its practices and the consequences of its actions – intended and unintended. Companies such as Amazon, TikTok, Microsoft, and X (former Twitter) have had problems, mainly in Europe, which is much more restrictive than the US and where the right to privacy is strongly protected.
In the case of social media, we are faced with a dilemma – whether and how the activities of otherwise private enterprises that have huge amounts of personal data should be regulated. This is often information provided by users in good faith. And social media, having information about our age, gender, place of residence, or personal interests and views, are able to provide users with the so-called behavioral advertising, which computer algorithms (increasingly supported by artificial intelligence) select based on our preferences. A side effect of the functioning of these algorithms may be long-term effects on mental health – on the scale of the entire generation, we can observe changes in behavior, addiction to presence in social media, but also limitations in the ability to focus, remember, learn, ociate facts and what we believe. for the process of normal thinking.
To regulate or not?
One form of defense is to be the European Digital Services Act (DSA), which regulates the functioning of entities with at least 49 million users in the European Union. It imposes a number of obligations on high tech companies, often quite restrictive, including limiting the risk of disseminating false information and disinformation. In Europe and beyond, the role that social media platforms could play during election campaigns and hot political events is well remembered. At that time, social media was a channel for spreading fake news and a tool for manipulation.
The other side does not give up easily. Elon Musk, the eccentric owner of website X (formerly Twitter), threatened to withdraw or block his services on the Old Continent. As he claims, regulations in the EU have gone much too far. In addition to the collection charges, his company is also accused in Europe of providing disinformation tools. And since the old Twitter is considered one of the fastest and most effective tools for transmitting information, this is a serious matter. The obligation to fight fake news also falls on other companies in Europe: Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, ByteDance (TikTok), Meta, Microsoft, and Samsung.
So far, social media sites have paid little heed to calls for self-regulation. Impunity was encouraged by too low penalties imposed by regulators. Even the $20 million fine that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Microsoft for collecting data on children using the xBox game console was a small fraction of the company’s profits. The same applies to the $25 million fine imposed on Amazon for storing sensitive consumer data for years. In Norway, Meta had to pay 100,000. dollars a day for following users on Instagram and Facebook. Considering the capabilities of a multi-billion company, this amount is also not excessive.
Collective lawsuits in the US may prove to be a breakthrough when it comes to trying to neutralize the negative effects of social media on the young generation. The fight will not be easy, because these companies have huge funds to conduct court battles. It is important, however, that awareness of the dangers of dependence on advanced technology products is growing. Social media platforms have changed our world, for better and for worse.