Instagram causes eating disorders, depression in young girls, new lawsuits claim

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Instagram is accused in two new lawsuits of spurring eating disorders and mental health problems ranging from anxiety and depression to addiction and suicide attempts in teenage girls.

The lawsuits -- filed against Meta, the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, allege the company needs to be held responsible for "causing and contributing to burgeoning mental health crisis perpetrated upon the children and teenagers of the United States."

One lawsuit was filed by the family of a girl identified as CN.

Her mother, Candace Wuest of Kentucky, alleges in the lawsuit that CN was 12 when she became addicted to Instagram and eventually attempted suicide.

"CN's use of Instagram developed into a dependency on the Instagram product and coincided with a steady, but severe, decline in her mental health," the lawsuit said.

According to the court filing, CN and her mother used Instagram to search for recipes to cook together but CN was eventually led to "dangerous recipes-for example, recipes designed to achieve negative caloric intake."

"Meta's social media product pushed 12-year-old CN down a dangerous rabbit hole," said the lawsuit, which accuses Meta of strict liability, negligence, fraud and fraudulent concealment and unjust enrichment.

"Meta knows that its product is contributing to teen depression, anxiety, even suicide and self-harm. Why doesn't it change these harmful product features and stop utilizing algorithms in connection, at least, with teen accounts? Because Meta's priority is growth and competition concerns, and it sees 'acquiring and retaining' teens as essential to its survival," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit sought unspecified monetary damages and included comparison photos to show the alleged change in CN's appearance and depictions of CN's artwork that she used to express her eating disorder and depression.

The second lawsuit claims the plaintiff Alexandra Martin, also of Kentucky, began using Instagram at 12 and was "encouraged" by the platform to open multiple accounts, despite her young age.

According to the lawsuit, Martin, now 19, saw eating disorder-related content through Instagram and began to show symptoms of anxiety and depression.

She later was diagnosed with anorexia and had to be hospitalized and seek inpatient treatment for the condition, according to the lawsuit. In 2019, the lawsuit alleges Martin attempted suicide twice and was hospitalized.

"Alex's social media use coincided with a steady, but severe, decline in her mental health," the lawsuit said. "She was addicted to Instagram and could not stop using Instagram, even when the social media product was directing increasing amounts of harmful content and amplifying that harmful content via Alex's Instagram accounts and product features."

"Specifically," the lawsuit continues, "Alex was repeatedly bombarded with and exposed to content recommended and/or made available to her by Meta, which increasingly included underweight models, unhealthy eating, and eating disorder content."

The lawsuit, which includes Martin's parents, Benjamin and Jennifer Martin, as plaintiffs, also sought unspecified monetary damages.

Both families are represented in their lawsuits by Laura Marquez-Garrett of the Social Media Victims Law Center.

A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment Tuesday on the two lawsuits, citing them as "active litigation."

The spokesperson highlighted general protections for kids they say are offered by Instagram, including support for people struggling with body image issues, age verification, parental controls, decreasing visibility of content that is potentially sensitive, time control settings, default settings to provide more privacy, as well as in-app resources offering mental health support.

The two lawsuits come several weeks after the parents of a now 19-year-old New York woman also sued Meta, alleging their daughter developed an Instagram addiction that led to an eating disorder and other mental health struggles.

Their lawsuit and the two new lawsuits filed Monday each cite the thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents that were released by Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the tech company.

The documents Haugen shared were published by The Wall Street Journal and several other outlets in October 2021 and are collectively known as The Facebook Papers.

As ABC News reported last year, the documents showed Facebook had reportedly commissioned studies about and allegedly knew of the potential harm that negative or inflammatory content on its platforms was causing -- including researchers' findings that Instagram had made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teens -- but did not act to stop it.

In testimony to Congress last October, Haugen alleged that Facebook had disregarded concerns about the harmful effects their platforms could have on children's mental health.

In a response to Haugen's congressional testimony last October, Meta issued a statement that characterized Haugen as "a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives -- and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question."

"We don't agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about," the company said.

Related Topics