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Instagram alerts disrupt teen users’ sleep, schoolwork: lawsuit

Meta-owned Instagram uses “disruptive” alerts and other addictive features to keep underage users hooked – despite being aware that they take a costly toll on teens’ sleeping habits and schoolwork, according to claims outlined in a bombshell federal lawsuit this week.

In a jointly filed federal lawsuit, a group of 33 state attorneys general allege that Facebook and Instagram “use incessant notifications” to keep teens glued to their phones when they are “engaging in unrelated activities, such as attending school.”

The notifications include so-called “haptic alerts” including phone vibrations and pulses, as well as sound or banner notifications, emails and “badge notifications” that display a red indicator showing how many unread messages they have.

“These notifications are disruptive for all users but are especially intrusive and harmful for young users, who are particularly vulnerable to distraction and psychological manipulation,” the lawsuit says.

The allegations are a key part of the overall federal lawsuit, which accuses Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant of fueling a youth mental health crisis in the US by prioritizing profits over the safety of its users. Critics have increasingly warned that Meta’s policies are causing harmful outcomes for kids — ranging from anxiety and depression to anorexia and even suicide.

In addition to the joint federal lawsuit against Meta, eight other states and the District of Columbia filed separate suits.

Meta stands accused of fueling a teen mental health crisis through its apps.
Getty Images

The states cite research showing that heavy social media use contributes to “poorer sleep patterns,” which can in turn result in higher rates of anxiety and depression – and teen users are particularly vulnerable due to a phenomenon called “fear of missing out.”

“Young users—who are particularly attuned to FOMO—often feel an extra need to be connected at night and frequently wake up throughout the night to check social media notifications,” the suit says. “Socializing at night makes it harder for young users to sleep.”

Alerts are enabled by default on Instagram and Facebook, reducing the likelihood that young users will opt out of the barrage of messages, the states added. Even if users do disable notifications, the states allege that Meta “pressures” users to re-enable them in follow-up messages.

The intrusive alerts are one of several allegedly problematic business practices that are meant to maximize the amount of time users spent on Meta’s apps.

A federal lawsuit alleges Instagram alerts keep teen users hooked to the detriment of their sleep and schoolwork.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Other sources of potential harm include Meta’s use of “dopamine-manipulating recommendation algorithms,” an emphasis on a “likes” system that was “known by Meta to harm young users” and visual “filters” that allegedly caused teens to develop negative body images.

The plaintiffs also accuse Meta of publicly downplaying the risks – contradicting its own internal research – while assuring users its platforms are safe. Meta is also alleged to have collected personal data on users younger than 13 in violation of federal law – a claim the company denies.

Fairplay, an online children’s safety group, said the alerts are just one element of Meta’s long-term effort to target “young people with manipulative techniques to keep them online with little regard for their safety and wellbeing.”

“Children and teens are uniquely vulnerable to the design abuses employed by Meta to maximize engagement on their platforms,” Fairplay Executive Director Josh Golin told The Post. “We simply can’t trust Meta’s assurances that they’re focused on public safety when the facts speak so loudly for themselves: Meta will choose profits over kids’ safety every time.”

A Meta spokesperson noted Instagram has a “quiet mode” that mutes notifications.

When reached for comment on the alerts, a Meta spokesperson defended the company’s practices, asserting that it has “intentionally designed features that help teens take breaks and avoid notifications from Instagram.”

For example, Instagram offers a “Quiet Mode” for teen users that mutes notifications. 

“We actually notify teens to turn on Quiet Mode if they’ve been on Instagram for just a few minutes at night, too,” the spokesperson said. “We also make it very easy for teens to access our many features that let them mute notifications at any time, mute certain accounts and more.”

In a statement on the states’ lawsuits yesterday, a Meta spokesperson said the company was “disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”

The states are seeking financial damages as well as “injunctive relief” that would block Meta from engaging in harmful or illegal business practices outlined in the suit.

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