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Facebook, Instagram “Addictive” Effects on Children Scrutinized by EU Meta Probe

Last Updated May 17, 2024 2:26 PM
James Morales
Last Updated May 17, 2024 2:26 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The European Commission has launched a probe into Meta over the alleged addictiveness of Facebook and Instagram.
  • Meta has also been sued by a group of US states over similar concerns.
  • Meanwhile, the European Commission is investigating TikTok.

Although social media platforms have become ubiquitous in the lives of young people, a growing body of research highlights the potential for addiction and its impact on children’s mental health.

In light of this, the European Commission has opened formal proceedings against Meta to investigate concerns that Facebook and Instagram may be addictive for children.

Social Media Addiction in Minors

While it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish genuine concerns about social media addiction from moral panics over rising internet usage, the phenomenon is increasingly recognized as a problem.

The first studies  to identify the trend emerged in the early 2010s. From the outset, a strong focus has been on how social media may affect children and adolescents’ school performance, social behavior, and personal relationships.

Last year, 41 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit  against Meta alleging that the company knowingly used features on its platforms that caused children to use them compulsively.

The complaint argued that features such as infinite scrolling and mobile notifications “entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens.”

Joining the criticism, various parent groups, charities, and the European Commission have raised their concerns.

European Commission Joins Meta Criticism

Commenting on the latest Meta probe, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager said  the Commission is acting to ensure the safety of young social media users:

“With the Digital Services Act (DSA) we established rules that can protect minors when they interact online. We have concerns that Facebook and Instagram may stimulate behavioral addiction and that the methods of age verification that Meta has put in place on their services is not adequate.

As Vestager indicated, the investigation will not only look into potentially addictive platform features but also their age verification processes. Additionally, it will consider whether they do enough to ensure young people’s privacy.

What About TikTok?

While the European Commission’s latest probe focuses on Instagram and Facebook, surveys suggest  minors are much more exposed to TikTok.

However, a similar DSA investigation launched last month is investigating ByteDance’s video-sharing app.

Although more limited in scope, the probe notes that TikTok launched a new app in France and Spain, “without prior diligent assessment of the risks it entails, in particular those related to the addictive effect of the platforms.”

“This is of particular concern for children, given the suspected absence of effective age verification mechanisms on TikTok,” the Commission stated .

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