Saying their daughter’s Instagram use caused her to be depressed, anxious and suicidal, a Yaphank family is suing the social media outlet’s parent company, Meta.
Kathleen and Jeffrey Spence, together with their daughter Alexis, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court’s Northern District of California. The 138-page document details Alexis Spence’s struggles with “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation” and alleges the behaviors were a result of her sustained use of “Meta’s unreasonably dangerous Instagram social media product.”
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 lawsuit states. Furthermore, the case insists that the “harms were all caused by Alexis’ exposure to and use of Meta’s unreasonably dangerous and defective social media product, Instagram.”
Alexis Spence, now 20, began secretly using a fake account on Instagram when she was 11, after her parents first gifted her a phone.
The Spences are represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center in Seattle. The Long Islanders are among more than a thousand families across the United States and Canada suing the social media giant, alleging its digital product caused harm and personal injuries to their loved ones.
This wave of legal action comes in wake of the 2021 release of the “Facebook Papers” by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission and Congress. The Facebook Papers documents, cited across the pages of the Spences family’s lawsuit, provide evidence that Meta knew Instagram was toxic for teenage girls, the lawsuit says.
“The Facebook Papers establish that Meta has actual knowledge that children under the age of 13 are using its social media products; that its social media products are highly addictive and harmful to a significant population of all users, but especially teens, children, and certain protected classes (women, people of color, and low-SES);” the Spences’ lawsuit alleges. “and that its algorithms and algorithm-driven product features, such as Feed, Explore, Reels, and Stories, as well as product design features that serve no functional purpose, such as ‘Likes,’ are causing harm to its users.”
The Spences have appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and other national media programs, discussing the lawsuit. Most recently, Alexis Pence’s story was featured last week on ABC7’s “Eyewitness News.”
The Spences appeared on ’60 Minutes’ in December
Alexis Spence told ABC7 that shortly after creating an Instagram account, the social media outlet began showing her “pictures of young people struggling with eating disorders and their bodies.” Furthermore, she said Instagram allowed the then pre-teen to join chat groups where users were required to log their calorie-intake and weigh-in on a scale each day.
“You’d have to send a picture of the weight on the scale – every day,” Alexis Spence said in the ABC7 report.
A Meta administrator told ABC7 that Meta removed nearly all Instagram hashtags and users that promote self-harm, suicide or eating disorders, and that it has implemented tools to help teens remain safe on Instagram. For instance, a video selfie is required for age verification.
Click here to review Instagram’s current safety features.
“We don’t allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, and of the content we remove or take action on, we identify over 99% of it before it’s reported to us,” Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Meta, told ABC7.
The Spences wished the safety precautions had always been in place.
“Social media is the silent killer of our children’s generation,” Kathleen Spence said.
‘Eyewitness News’ interviews Yaphank’s Alexis Spence and her parents
Top image: Mobile phone app logos for, from left, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are photographed in New York on Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)