A New York couple is suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging their daughter, who is now 19-years-old, developed an addiction to Instagram, which led to an eating disorder and other mental health struggles.
Filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Kathleen and Jeff Spence of Long Island allege in the personal injury lawsuit that their daughter Alexis began using Instagram at age 11 without their knowledge.
Parents Sue Meta After Teen Daughter Developed Eating Disorder From An Alleged Instagram Addiction
This is two years younger than Instagram’s required minimum age of 13.
They claim she then developed an addiction to the social media app, which inadvertently caused “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which the Social Media Victims Law Center filed, alleges that as Alexis’s parents, the Spences were “emotionally and financially harmed by Meta’s addictive design and continued and harmful distribution and/or provision of multiple Instagram accounts to their minor child.”
“The fact that Alexis is here is truly a miracle because we fought tooth-and-nail for her,” Kathleen Spence told ABC News. “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.”
Alexis Spence informed the outlet how she created her first Instagram account at age 11 in order to interact with a popular online kids game at the time. Alexis stated how her feed quickly became overwhelmed with content related to eating disorders and self-harm while using her own tablet and then a smartphone, as well as friends’ devices to use Instagram.
“When I’m 11 years old, what am I to do but keep looking at this content?” she said. “And when you’re being told every day, ‘This is how [to] be pretty … this is what you’re supposed to look like,’ what am I to think? I was a child.”
Kathleen Spence, who also has a 13-year-old son, shared the changes she and her husband alleged they saw in their daughter in the years that followed.
“When Alexis first started going on Instagram without our consent or knowledge at 11 years old, we didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “We just know that our daughter was disappearing. Slowly, piece by piece, we were losing our confident, loving child, and she was becoming depressed, angry, withdrawn.”
The Spences allege in the lawsuit that even as they got Alexis professional mental health treatment, they were not initially aware of the full impact of their daughter’s Instagram use.
They claim they were not able to fully understand until 2021 when thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents were released by Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the tech company. The documents Haugen shared were published by the Wall Street Journal and several other outlets in October 2021, and are collectively known as The Facebook Papers.
These documents revealed how Facebook had reportedly commissioned studies about and knew of the potential harm that negative or inflammatory content on its platforms was causing, including researchers’ findings that Instagram had made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teens — but did nothing to stop it.
Haugen alleged that Facebook had disregarded concerns about the harmful effects their platforms could have on children’s mental health in testimony to Congress last October.
Spence stated how after reading the documents Haugen shared, she arrived at the conclusion that there was not much she and her husband could have done to help Alexis.
“We did all we could,” she said. “We would encourage her to come downstairs. We ate dinner together as a family every night. We would have family outings on the weekend. We would take her places, but the phone and the social media was always there and it didn’t matter.”
She continued, “At the end of the day, my husband and I are one loving set of parents who are trying to keep our daughter safe from a multi-billion dollar company who was meeting behind closed doors to come up with ways to keep our children addicted to their products because they want to make money.”
In addition to demanding Instagram make product changes to make the app safer for kids, the Spences’ lawsuit is asking for monetary damages, including Alexis’s “past and present” medical expenses and her “loss of future income and learning capacity.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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