LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada's state attorney general has launched a go-it-alone legal fight against five popular social media platforms, alleging they have created, in one instance “an addiction machine,” and that they deliberately exploit children too young to have a capacity for self-control.
A trio of lawsuits filed in state court in Las Vegas seek unspecified damages from TikTok, Snapchat and Meta Platforms, the owner of Instagram, Facebook and Messenger, on claims including deceptive trade practices and negligence.
“All of these platforms use features ... to maximize youth use, manipulate young emotions, and exploit children’s developing minds — all for massive financial gain,” state Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a statement about the lawsuits filed Tuesday.
“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 statement said.
The lawsuits were filed just ahead of testimony in Congress on Wednesday by top executives of Meta, TikTok, Snap Inc. and other platforms.
TikTok representative Michael Hughes declined in an email on Wednesday to comment about the legal case but pointed to posted policies and parental controls that he said were designed to prioritize the safety and “digital well-being” of teens.
“We do not allow content depicting, promoting, normalizing or glorifying activities that could lead to suicide or self-harm, or content that promotes unhealthy eating behaviors or habits that are likely to cause adverse health outcomes,” the email said.
Snap Inc. spokesperson Ashley Adams said in a statement the site opens to a camera, not a scrolling feed of content, “and has no traditional public likes or comments.”
“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,” the statement said.
Meta representative Chris Sgro said the platform has “people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online” and offers ”tools and features to support them and their parents.“
“We want teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online,” he said.
Before Congress, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley's invitation to issue an apology directly to “families of victims.” Some parents at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held photos of their children who died by suicide.
“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered,” Zuckerberg said, adding that Meta continues to invest and work on “industry-wide efforts” to protect children.
Nevada was not among more than 33 states that filed suit in October against Meta in federal court in California, alleging that features on Instagram and Facebook are designed to addict children.
John Sadler, a spokesperson for Ford, declined to say whether the Nevada lawsuits were timed to coincide with the congressional hearing.
But Sadler acknowledged the decision to file the cases in state court instead of joining other states in federal court follows a path the state took in opioid damages claims. Nevada reached multiyear settlements with pharmaceutical companies, retailers and others in those cases that are expected to reap more than $1 billion for the state.
Ford, a Democrat, enlisted participation in the Nevada case from three prominent personal injury law firms based in Las Vegas, Dallas and Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Social media platforms are a bottomless pit where users can spend an infinite amount of their time,” Nevada said in the Snapchat complaint. “It demands our attention first thing in the morning and last thing at night, at the dinner table, while we're walking down the street, even when we are driving.”
“Much like an illegal drug, Snapchat has been designed to be an addiction machine,” the court filing said.
Each complaint also cites a 2019 Psychology Today article by Mike Brooks, titled “The ‘Vegas Effect’ of Our Screens," that compares compulsive social media use to the effect of gamblers sitting at slot machines and playing “for hours on end.”