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Meta sued over young girl’s eating disorder and self-harm

A family in California is suing Meta for their daughter’s eating disorder and self-harm following her addiction to Meta’s platforms.

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Ashley St. Clair New York NY
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A family in California is suing Meta for their daughter’s eating disorder and self-harm following her addiction to Meta’s platforms. The family of Alexis Spence is looking to hold the social media giant accountable for severe mental health struggles they claim are a result of Meta’s deliberate efforts to get pre-teens addicted to their products.

One group out of Seattle, the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), has taken on Alexis Spence’s case to sue Meta on behalf of the young girl for allowing her and countless other children to access products which Meta knows are addictive, harmful, and dangerous.

The family says that their once-confident-and-happy daughter Alexis began developing signs of depression and anxiety shortly after secretly opening an Instagram account at just 11 years old. Through Instagram, she was exposed to a plethora of dangerous content, including sexually explicit messages and photos from adults, as well as solicitation of sexual acts.

At 12 years old, Spence was drawing pictures of herself next to her phone with a thought bubble above her head saying things like, "kill yourself," and "stupid, fat, worthless." Spence continued to have a severe decline in her mental health, resulting in a life-threatening eating disorder and suicidal ideations, all of which her family attributes to social media addiction and the content Instagram exposed her to. Alexis’ family would eventually take on the economic and emotional impact of the medical treatments and hospitalizations that followed.

2015 Drawing by Alexis Spence at 12-years-old

The lawsuit against Meta was filed on June 6th in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The Post Millennial reviewed the complaint filed and discovered a heavy reliance on the "Facebook Papers," the trove of internal Facebook documents leaked to the the United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The complaint claims that "The Facebook Papers prove known dangerous designs and design defects as well as operational decisions and calculations, and a causal relationship between use of these social media products in their current form resulting in addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and what Meta refers to as "SSI" (Suicide and Self Injury)."

While Instagram 'requires' users to be at least 13 years of age to create an account on their platform, they do not require age verification, and the complaint alleges that "Meta has actual knowledge that children under the age of 13 are using its social media products."

The Post Millennial spoke to one of Alexis Spence’s attorneys, Matthew Bergman, founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center, about the lawsuit. Bergman, a longtime product liability lawyer, explained that he started SMVLC last fall in response to Frances Haugen’s revelations about the damages to children that occur as a result of using these social media products.

Two other cases that Bergman has filed involved children that have taken their lives "as a result of social media addiction." One of those children was 11 years old and in the fifth grade.

Bergman told TPM that prior to social media addiction, Alexis Spence "was an extremely well-adjusted kid, parents are school teachers, she didn’t have the socioeconomic challenges that a lot of other kids have, she was interested, vivacious." Bergman explained that Alexis’ parents took all of the recommended steps to avoid social media addiction, "Her parents did everything right, they put parental controls on, they tried to limit her social media access, and she got on Instagram and encountered a downward [mental] spiral."

The Spence family

As cases brought by parents against social media companies for harm to their children grow by the day, Bergman says Spence’s case is not unique.

"The only thing remarkable about Alexis’ case is that she survived to tell about it. Many, many children that went through the level of abuse and physical manifestation of eating disorders that Alexis did, lost their lives," he said.

Spence’s lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent California bill, AB-2408, which would give parents the ability to sue social media companies for up to $25,000 for their children becoming addicted to their sites. The bill is currently awaiting passage by the state Senate, and seeks to lead the way legislatively to hold social media companies accountable for their predatory methods of user engagement.

Holding a similar view to the authors of AB-2408, Bergman hopes that the economic impact of litigation against Meta and other companies will spark a change.

"These companies have been operating with immunity under Section 230 for many years, which has allowed them to externalize the horrifically dangerous nature of their products. It is our hope and expectation that by forcing these companies to bear the economic consequences of their dangerous products, they will be incentivized to design safer products," he said.

Opposition to the immunities held by Big Tech under Section 230 has been a long-standing political battle, especially among Republican lawmakers. Recently, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a bill that would repeal Section 230 entirely. Similar efforts have been brought before but to no avail. Last year, Congressman Jim Jordan sponsored an amendment to Section 230 to remove immunity from Big Tech.

Parents who believe their child may be a victim of social media addictions can reach out to the Social Media Victims Law Center at https://socialmediavictims.org/.

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