In December 2022, CBS NEWS reported that over 1,200 families had filed lawsuits against Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram), TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat. These families claimed that the content shared on these platforms hurt their children’s mental health.
One example is that of Kathleen and Jeff Spence, who shared that their daughter Alexis developed an eating disorder and depression at 12 years old after using Instagram. In July 2022, Reuters reported that two families sued Meta because their daughters also suffered from severe eating disorders. Instagram showed these teens’ content on extreme exercise and images of thin models, setting unrealistic health and body standards.
The families were represented by Laura Marquez-Garrett from the Social Media Victims Law Center. The lawsuit states that the girls got addicted to Instagram and developed anorexia, anxiety, and depression. Both of them attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized several times. One had to be on a feeding tube when she didn’t want to eat.
Social media has been destroying teenagers’ mental health, as they constantly compare themselves to others’ posts. They often encounter harsh comments on their bodies and looks, becoming victims of cyberbullying.
Instagram Use and Social Comparison
An American Psychological Association (APA) study states that students have associated Instagram content with body image insecurities, social anxiety, self-esteem problems, and other issues. Based on the design, the app exploits users’ biological drive for social belonging. It urges them to keep scrolling and get addicted to the posts.
Jasmine Fardouly, a psychology researcher who contributed her bit to the APA article, said that excess Instagram use could promote upward social comparison. Users endlessly compare their lives with edited images of others and develop negative thoughts about themselves.
Teens who use social media depend on likes, shares, and comments to feel good. If they don’t receive the expected number of likes, they develop self-doubt, which, in turn, affects their confidence and self-esteem.
The APA article further asserts that Instagram users who engage in social comparison and digital status-seeking experience negative psychological outcomes. According to Jack Baylin, a student at North Springs High School, Instagram can create external and internal drama when people see their friends’ posts and compare their lives.
An Overview of Instagram Mental Health Lawsuits
In May 2023, three districts in Oregon filed legal cases against social media platforms for neglecting students’ mental health and focusing on profits. The Salem-Keizer and Washougal school districts filed lawsuits against Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. In March 2023, the Gervais school district filed an Instagram lawsuit for similar reasons.
TorHoerman Law states that young adults and teens suffering from mental health problems because of Instagram may be eligible to file a lawsuit. Other than depression, Instagram can cause sleep problems and social anxiety, affect adolescent health, and result in other emotional issues. The damages for an Instagram mental health lawsuit can include pain and suffering, therapy costs, and medical treatment costs.
How Instagram Algorithms Target Teens
ConsumerNotice.org states that social media algorithms target teens through videos, images, and stories tailored to them. Meta invests millions in targeting and retaining its teen users. These algorithms amplify the posts with maximum follows, likes, and shares. They can create timeline feeds that are ruled by over-the-top opinions, unrealistic beauty standards, social media challenges, and extreme stunts.
During a 2021 experiment, CNN conducted a test where they created a profile impersonating a 13-year-old girl. Instagram actively promoted accounts with names like “Sweet Skinny” and “Prettily Skinny” to the fabricated account. It projected an unrealistic image of what a 13-year-old girl should be like leading to mental stress.
Can Instagram Lawsuits Drive Change?
In March 2023, the Albuquerque Journal reported that civil lawsuits filed in Anytown, USA, can trigger social change about using Instagram. According to an article in Courthouse News Service, the lawsuits can get big and take the form of mass-tort litigation.
The article draws a parallel between the social media lawsuits and opioid litigation, which brought a huge change in how opioids got sold, marketed, and dispensed. While a few lawsuits can claim personal damages, others can translate into a class-action lawsuit.
The rising number of Instagram lawsuits brings about a mass realization of the dangers of excessive social media use. It encourages families to examine their children’s mental health and seek the assistance of a child psychologist to help them address and control social media addiction.
A study titled “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression” by the University of Pennsylvania found that mental health issues in young users reduced significantly when they limited their social media use. However, families of kids who suffered mental health problems due to Instagram and other social media platforms can file a lawsuit and get compensated.
Instagram lawsuits can be a harbinger of online safety. By holding the platforms accountable for their shortcomings, these legal actions can lead to essential policy changes. But it is essential to realize that lawsuits alone are not a cure-all. A collaborative effort involving policymakers, platforms, and users is essential to create a safer online world.