Employees at Meta Platforms and ByteDance were aware of the harmful effects of their platforms on young children and teenagers but disregarded the information or in some cases sought to undermine it, court filings show.
The revelations were disclosed in a lawsuit over social media addiction that had been filed previously but with key portions sealed from public view.
An unredacted version filed over the weekend in federal court in Oakland, California, offers details about how much engineers and others, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, knew about the harms of social media and their misgivings about it.
“No one wakes up thinking they want to maximise the number of times they open Instagram that day,” one Meta employee wrote in 2021, according to the filing. “But that’s exactly what our product teams are trying to do.”
The case in Oakland comprises a collection of scores of complaints filed across the US on behalf of adolescents and young adults who allege that Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Google’s YouTube caused them to suffer anxiety, depression, eating disorders and sleeplessness.
More than a dozen suicides also have been blamed on the companies, based on claims that they knowingly designed algorithms that drew children down dangerous and addictive paths.
Several public school districts have filed suits, too, alleging they can’t fulfil their educational mission while students are coping with mental-health crises.
In their defence, the social media giants point to a 1996 law that gives internet platforms broad immunity from claims over harmful content posted by users.