An EU investigation has been opened into growing concerns about teen Instagram addiction, to determine whether parent company Meta is breaking the law by deliberately seeking to make its apps addictive.

The investigation will also look into whether the company’s age-verification procedures are sufficiently robust, and the phenomenon of sending users down potentially harmful ‘rabbit holes’ …

The issue of adults and children alike getting addicted to smartphone apps has been causing concern for years now, with social media apps under particular scrutiny.

Back in 2019, for example, researchers at King’s College London determined that smartphone addiction – more formally known as Problematic Smartphone Usage – was being viewed as a psychiatric disorder. Another found that you’d have to pay a Facebook user $1,000 a year to stop using the app, and a 2021 study found that the problem affected 40% of college students.

Meta has faced multiple lawsuits, from parents and US states, alleging that its apps harm the mental health of teenage users.

Teen Instagram addiction under investigation

The European Union has today announced an investigation to determine whether or not Meta is breaking the law, with four issues being examined:

  • Does Meta take deliberate steps to make its apps addictive?
  • Do its algorithms send users down potentially harmful ‘rabbit holes’?
  • Does the company take adequate steps to verify the age of its users?
  • Does Meta properly protect the privacy of minors?

The EU initially asked Meta to send a report on the risk assessments it took regarding its apps, and says that it was not satisfied with this.

Meta’s compliance with Digital Services Act (DSA) obligations on assessment and mitigation of risks caused by the design of Facebook’s and Instagram’s online interfaces, which may exploit the weaknesses and inexperience of minors and cause addictive behaviour, and/or reinforce so-called ‘rabbit hole’ effect.

Such an assessment is required to counter potential risks for the exercise of the fundamental right to the physical and mental well-being of children as well as to the respect of their rights.

Meta’s compliance with DSA requirements in relation to the mitigation measures to prevent access by minors to inappropriate content, notably age-verification tools used by Meta, which may not be reasonable, proportionate and effective.

Meta’s compliance with DSA obligations to put in place appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure a high level of privacy, safety and security for minors, particularly with regard to default privacy settings for minors as part of the design and functioning of their recommender systems.

The full investigation may take some time, but the EU is empowered to make interim enforcement rulings now that it is underway. These could require Meta to implement immediate changes.

TikTokers sue US government over possible ban

Another app often under fire for potentially harmful effects is TikTok. The US government passed a law requiring the app to be sold to an American company, or be banned.

The company itself is already suing the US government, claiming that the law is unconstitutional, and Engadget reports that a group of TikTok creators have also filed their own lawsuit.

Eight creators have sued the US government in an effort to block a law requiring TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to sell the service. The lawsuit claims that the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights of the creators who depend on the platform.

The lawsuit is reportedly being bankrolled by TikTok.

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

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