Claiming that their daughter developed an Instagram addiction as a minor that led to an eating disorder and suicidal ideation, a now 19-year-old woman and her parents are suing Meta for past and present medical expenses and future loss of income.
Kathleen and Jeff Spence detail how their daughter Alexis began using Instagram at age 11 and became obsessed with her appearance and the perception of others in a lawsuit filed Monday by the Social Media Victims Law Center on behalf of the family in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California.
The platform’s required age for use is 13.
In the complaint, the family claims that Alexis’ addiction to Instagram was the catalyst for “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation.”
The Spences also claim they were “emotionally and financially harmed by Meta’s addictive design,” and are seeking monetary damages for “past and present” medical expenses, as well as “future loss of income.”
The family is being represented by Matthew Bergman, a lawyer who filed a separate social media lawsuit in February on behalf of a mother who claims the “negligence” of the companies’ products led to her daughter’s suicide.
“We’re all in favor of parental responsibility,” Bergman told USA Today. “This family did everything they’re supposed to do with parental guards on products, but the nature of Instagram is they’re designed to avoid parental authority.
“The only thing unusual about this case is that Alexis, through God's grace, is here to talk about it. So many families I've spoken to, the child has not been able to recover or they've taken their own life."
According to court documents, Alexis’ parents allege that the symptoms she experienced were the result of Meta pushing how she was supposed to look to be popular. The lawsuit also alleges that Meta promoted images of self-harm to which Alexis was exposed.
“The fact that Alexis is here is truly a miracle because we fought tooth-and-nail for her,” Kathleen Spence told "Good Morning America." “We did everything we possibly could for her. We got her the help that she needed on multiple levels, and there were times when we were very concerned for her safety.”
Meta includes information about parental control locks for minors on its website and features disclaimers about usage of its products at a young age.
First published by The Wall Street Journal in October 2021, The Facebook Papers were released by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the platform.
The documents, which are cited extensively in the lawsuit, revealed that the company commissioned safety studies about its platforms and that it knew of one study that showed 1 in 3 teens had a more negative body image because of Instagram.
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