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Woman, 19, sues Meta for fueling ‘addictive’ use of Instagram

A 19-year-old girl and her family are suing social media giant Meta, claiming that it knowingly created ‘addictive’ features that caused her to develop an eating disorder and suicidal feelings at a young age.

The first-of-its-kind lawsuit, filed Monday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, relies heavily on a trove of leaked internal Meta documents that revealed the tech giant knew Instagram was harmful to young girls’ mental health.

The lawsuit, obtained by DailyMail.com, was filed by the Social Media Victims Law Center, a Seattle-based group that advocates for families of teens harmed online, on behalf of 19-year-old Alexis Spence – who created her first Instagram account at the age of 11 without her parents’ consent and in violation of the platform’s minimum age requirement of 13.

It alleges that Instagram’s artificial intelligence steered the then fifth-grader to accounts glorifying anorexia and self-cutting, while the platform also rolled out new features designed to make the app more addictive.

Spence has been hospitalized for depression, anxiety and anorexia as a result, her lawyers argue and ‘fights to stay in recovery everyday’ as a result of ‘the harmful content and features Instagram relentlessly promoted and provided to her.’

Instagram officials declined to comment when approached by DailyMail.com.

Alexis Spence, 19, is suing Instagram’s parent company – Meta – claiming it knowingly created ‘addictive’ features that caused her to develop an eating disorder and suicidal feelings at a young age. She is pictured with her therapy dog, Draco

Alexis is now living with her parents and her dog on Long Island, New York

Alexis is now living with her parents and her dog on Long Island, New York

Alexis is now living with her parents and her dog on Long Island, New York

The lawsuit claims Alexis started using Instagram at a young age and was soon steered to accounts glorifying anorexia and self-harm

The lawsuit claims Alexis started using Instagram at a young age and was soon steered to accounts glorifying anorexia and self-harm

The lawsuit claims Alexis started using Instagram at a young age and was soon steered to accounts glorifying anorexia and self-harm

The lawsuit claims ‘Alexis was a confident and happy child, who loved reading, writing and helping people and animals.

‘She dreamed about becoming a veterinarian. She was active in singing competitions, theater and enjoyed being in the spotlight and looked for opportunities to shine.’

It points to her 2012 notebooks, which were filled with photos of her and her family smiling and enjoying vacations.

She then got her first Internet-enabled tablet device for Christmas in 2012 when she was 10 years old. At the time, she mainly used the device to play with Webkinz – stuffed animals that came with a code to play online, and make Webkinz videos.

But as she entered the fifth-grade, the lawsuit claims, she started getting teased by her friends for not having an Instagram, and ‘her friends told her that she needed to open an account and could open one even if her parents said “no.”‘

So in 2013, at the age of 11, Alexis opened her first Instagram account, posting regularly about her age, writing: ‘Hello, I’m 12 years old and love Webkinz.’

By that November, the lawsuit alleges, she started showing signs of depression and her parents sought mental health treatment, but did not know she was on social media at that time.

Alexis had saw content from other users explaining how to obtain your parents’ passcode to disable parental blocks, and applications you would need to download to hide Instagram.

The application she used made the Instagram icon look like a calculator, which she moved next to other utility applications.

By May 23, 2014, Alexis opened her second Instagram account using a school-issued email address which she did not have inbox access to and could therefore not authenticate – but was still able to use the app, according to the lawsuit.

Soon, it claims, she began to see her mother as overprotective, irrational and wrong as she tried to limit Alexis’ screen time.

Spence and her mother, Kathleen, spoke about the negative affects of Instagram on young users in an interview with NBC News

Spence and her mother, Kathleen, spoke about the negative affects of Instagram on young users in an interview with NBC News

Spence and her mother, Kathleen, spoke about the negative affects of Instagram on young users in an interview with NBC News

Facebook research shown last March displaying how Instagram is harming young people

Facebook research shown last March displaying how Instagram is harming young people

Facebook research shown last March displaying how Instagram is harming young people 

In December 2013, Alexis was able to get her first cellphone – a slide-phone her parents gave her in case she needed to contact them when she stayed after school, but at Alexis’ begging her parents got her a smartphone the following year at a cheap price.

They installed parental controls and did not allow her to take her phone into her room at night. They also reportedly put parental controls on their home computer, but ‘Alexis used what she learned on Instagram to bypass those protections and obtained even more access to Instagram, because now she could use Instagram all day while at school on her cell phone,’ the lawsuit claims.

Just four months later, the lawsuit says, she drew a picture of herself crying on the floor next to her phone with words like ‘stupid, ugly, fat,’ emanating from the screen, and ‘kill yourself’ in a thought bubble.

The site had pushed extreme weight loss content and bulimic purging instructions on her at that point, the suit claims, and started recommending pages featuring emaciated young women and models.

Those pages then led her to the terms ‘ana’ and ‘pro-ana’ in hashtags – abbreviations for anorexia, and recommended she ‘friend’ people with eating disorders.

Soon, Alexis would save the anorexic model photos as ‘motivation’ whenever she was feeling hungry and started purging, according to the lawsuit.

Eventually, it says, her parents found out she was on social media, but she was already above the age of 13 at that point – and she had only disclosed that she had one account.

By the age of 12, Alexis drew a picture of her herself crying on the floor next to her phone with words like 'stupid, ugly, fat,' emanating from the screen, and 'kill yourself' in a thought bubble.

By the age of 12, Alexis drew a picture of her herself crying on the floor next to her phone with words like 'stupid, ugly, fat,' emanating from the screen, and 'kill yourself' in a thought bubble.

By the age of 12, Alexis drew a picture of her herself crying on the floor next to her phone with words like ‘stupid, ugly, fat,’ emanating from the screen, and ‘kill yourself’ in a thought bubble.

By early 2018, Alexis' mother was called to her school after officials became aware of Instagram posts in which she expressed a desire to commit self-harm and detailing suicidal ideation

By early 2018, Alexis' mother was called to her school after officials became aware of Instagram posts in which she expressed a desire to commit self-harm and detailing suicidal ideation

By early 2018, Alexis’ mother was called to her school after officials became aware of Instagram posts in which she expressed a desire to commit self-harm and detailing suicidal ideation

By early 2018, the lawsuit states, Alexis’s parents became aware of her self-harm and an eating disorder, at which point they got her help and a therapy dog they named ‘Draco.’

Still, on May 8, 2018, Alexis’ school called her mother, Kathleen, about photos and Instagram posts Alexis made expressing a desire to commit self-harm and detailing suicidal ideation.

In the posts, she wrote: ‘I hate myself and I hate my body, and I’m sitting on the bathroom floor crying.

‘Please stop caring about me, I’m a waste of time and space, and everything would be better without me, all I do is bring people down.’

Alexis was then reportedly hospitalized for 10 days in connection with ‘Anorexia Nervosa and associated habits of purging, as well as major depressive disorder and anxiety.’

She is now in remission, and started at St. Joseph’s University in September 2020 – but shortly after she began her college career, the lawsuit says, Alexis relapsed and once again engaged in extensive outpatient treatments.

Alexis has not deleted all of her Instagram accounts, but the lawsuit says, ‘She must stay in constant contact with her doctors and fights to stay in recovery every day.

‘Alexis will suffer permanent mental and emotional damages because of what Instagram has done,’ it argues, adding: ‘Alexis’ doctors have also advised that long-term physical damage is likely.’

She now lives with her parents on Long Island, New York and ‘cannot live the independent and successful life she had planned for herself.’ 

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, released a trove of documents last year showing that Facebook executives knew about the negative effects its site was having on young girls

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, released a trove of documents last year showing that Facebook executives knew about the negative effects its site was having on young girls

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, released a trove of documents last year showing that Facebook executives knew about the negative effects its site was having on young girls 

Facebook executives knew about negative effects of social media – documents show 

In October, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee released a trove of documents detailing how executives designed features encouraging addictive behaviors in pre-teens while also causing them to develop eating disorders.

According to the documents, originally published by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook had known for two years that Instagram was toxic for young girls but continued to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite six per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves.

When Facebook researches first alerted the company of the issue in 2019, the documents showed, they said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’

‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’

One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 percent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.

As a result, Haugen said, the app fuels a contagion of eating disorders, body-shaming and self-dissatisfaction that is particularly dangerous for young people.

The lawsuit against Meta comes less than one year after a former Facebook employee Frances Haugen released internal documents claiming it designed features encouraging addictive behavior in pre-teens while encouraging eating disorders.

The so-called Facebook Papers shed light on a large amount of evidence that former employees have said prove the social media conglomerate is aware of many of their problems including the negative impact it has on its users mental health – specifically young girls.

According to the documents, originally published by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook had known for two years that Instagram was toxic for young girls but continued to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite six per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves.

When Facebook researches first alerted the company of the issue in 2019, the documents showed, they said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’

‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’

One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 percent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.

As a result, Haugen said, the app fuels a contagion of eating disorders, body-shaming and self-dissatisfaction that is particularly dangerous for young people.

 ‘There are going to be women walking around this planet in 60 years with brittle bones because of the choices that Facebook made around emphasizing profit today,’ she said, referring to the impact of eating disorders.

‘What’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this — this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more,’ Haugen told CBS’ 60 Minutes in October before testifying before Congress about its negative affects.

Spence’s attorneys now argue that these documents prove Meta knowingly peddled a dangerous product.

They claim the company put profit over people, with Kathleen telling NBC News. there was nothing she could have done to save her daughter ‘because we are fighting a multibillion dollar corporation and we have two different interests at heart, and their interest is not my daughter.’ 

‘If you look at the extensive research that it performed, they knew exactly what they were doing to kids, and they kept doing it,’ Matthew P Bergman, the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center who is representing Spence and her family, added.

‘I wish that I could say that Alexis’ case is aberrational,’ he continued. ‘The only aberration is that she survived.’

Woman, 19, sues Meta for fueling ‘addictive’ use of Instagram Source link Woman, 19, sues Meta for fueling ‘addictive’ use of Instagram

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