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Doom scrolling? Nevada AG files lawsuit against these 5 social media apps

Updated February 1, 2024 - 9:23 am

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford filed civil lawsuits Tuesday against five popular social media platforms, alleging the algorithms they use have been designed to deliberately addict the youth.

Ford, alongside three other law firms, filed the civil actions against TikTok, Snapchat, and three Meta-owned platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Messenger.

The lawsuit alleges the algorithms’ designs addict young minds and have encouraged problematic internet usage and caused harm to young people’s mental health, body image, physical health, privacy and physical safety, according to the statement from the attorney general’s office.

“My commitment to protecting consumers, particularly those that are as vulnerable as our youth, is unwavering,” Ford said in a statement Tuesday. “Bringing this litigation is an important step toward ensuring social media platforms put our children’s safety before their profits.”

Features such as endless scrolling, disappearing content, dopamine-inducing rewards, likes, shares and push notifications maximize use and manipulate young people’s emotions, all for financial gain, the attorney general’s office said.

“Each of these platforms has also been linked to serious dangers to kids, including auto accidents, increases in drug overdoses, suicides, eating disorders, sexual exploitation and more,” the attorney general’s office said in the statement.

In the complaints filed in Clark County District Court, the plaintiffs allege that the social media platforms are incentivized to keep users on its platform for as long as possible to view highly targeted advertisements. The complaints allege highly skilled and highly paid employees have invested years of research into designing features to make it impossible to quit.

Children have developmentally limited capacity for self-control and are most vulnerable to the intentionally addictive design elements, the complaints say.

For many young users, social media platforms are viewed as an indispensable part of their identity and a place to share a carefully cultivated personality, the complaints allege.

Social media platforms differ from other products that appeal to children, such as candy and soda, in that there is no natural break point where the consumer has finished the product, the lawsuits say.

“Instead, social media platforms are a bottomless pit where users can spend an infinite amount of their time,” the complaints say.

The apps pepper their users with reminders to log on and makes it psychologically difficult to log off, the complaints allege.

Users feel addicted to the social media platforms and report difficulty controlling their time spent on the apps, the plaintiffs say, alleging that the platforms have not introduced product changes to reduce their addictiveness.

“In effect, Defendants are conducting a potentially society-altering experiment on a generation of Young Users’ developing brains,” the complaints say. “While this experiment’s full impact may not be realized for decades, the early returns are alarming.”

A spokesperson for Snap said in a statement to the Review-Journal that Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media with a focus on helping users communicate with their close friends.

“Snapchat opens directly to a camera — rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling — and has no traditional public likes or comments,” the spokesperson said. “While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.”

A spokesperson for TikTok declined to comment and pointed the Review-Journal to TikTok’s policies, such as age-restricted features, limits on direct messaging and livestreams and private accounts by default for young viewers. There are default screen time limits and restricted nighttime notifications for teens, screen time management tools and reminders to users to take a break. The company also works to remove suspected underage accounts.

Meta did not return requests for comment.

2024.01.30 Snap Complaint by Jessica Hill on Scribd

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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