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Wisconsin AG wants to know if Instagram, Facebook are violating consumer protection laws

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A battle is brewing between a growing number of states, Wisconsin included, and tech giant Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook.

It’s based on concerns from dozens of attorneys general involving social media’s impact on young children, as well as consumer protection laws.

It should come as no surprise, especially for parents, that recent surveys show 90 percent of 13-17 year-olds have used social media, with 75 percent saying they have an active profile, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

If that’s where kids already are, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul believes there’s a responsibility to make sure what youth are reading and watching online doesn’t cause harm.

“It’s critical that any company, but certainly one of the largest companies in the world like Facebook, is taking steps to make sure that kids and young adults are safe and that the products that it’s putting out there aren’t causing harm,” says Kaul. “And if they are putting that out there and misrepresenting people, we’re committed to making sure that they’re held accountable.”

To do that, Kaul and more than 40 attorneys general are participating in a nationwide investigation into Meta to see if it’s violating consumer protection laws.

“One thing is Facebook appears to have been using algorithms to try to get people to keep using Instagram as much as possible and to really hook people on it. When companies are putting out products like this, they’ve got to be transparent with the public about what the harms are,” says Kaul. “If they haven’t done that, we are going to ferret that out through this investigation and we’re going to work to hold them accountable.”

Kaul’s concern focuses on kids’ mental health, including anxiety and reduced self-esteem, especially associated with Instagram.

“People are worried that if they’re not on Instagram, they’re going to be missing out on what’s happening, and so that leads them to be on even more. There are these idealized images of what people’s lives are like on Instagram with these photos that get posted,” he explains.

In July, two months after another large, bi-partisan push from dozens of AGs, urging Instagram to toss out plans for an app targeting kids younger than 13, the platform paused the idea.

It also announced changes to how ads are targeted as well as a default setting to make accounts of young users automatically private.

The company wrote in a post online that it wants young people to enjoy using Instagram while never compromising privacy and safety.

The investigation the AGs are launching will undoubtedly take time and likely a court battle.

Until then, Kaul urges parents to go back to the basics and continually monitor their kids’ online activity.

“Just being involved in your kids’ lives, asking them what’s going on, what they’re doing can help identify problems before they lead to larger problems,” he adds.

More tips can be found online on the Wisconsin DOJ website.

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