*Warning: This story discusses suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.*
Stupid. Ugly. Fat. All words that can be found in an entry from the personal journal of a 12-year-old girl.
Alexis Spence wrote the words just four months after getting her first smartphone. The same words appear in a thought bubble next to a photo she drew of herself.
Her parents say Alexis went into a deep depression caused by Instagram. The Spence family claims the app fueled addictive behaviors in their preteen daughter, including an eating disorder, self-harm and thoughts of suicide when she was just 11 years old.
Now, they are taking that fight to court by suing Instagram’s parent company Meta with the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC).
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims Meta is responsible for Spence’s addiction to Instagram and that Meta knowingly targets preteen users with an addictive app featuring algorithms that lead users to harmful content.
“Meta has consistently and knowingly placed its own profit over the health and welfare of its teen and underage users,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “These documents, including some that have not been previously disclosed to the public, show that Meta’s senior leadership knew that Instagram harms kids but consciously and callously chose profits over human life.”
“The social media giant spent millions of dollars researching and developing product features to attract and retain a steady stream of pre-teen users despite warnings from Meta employees that its products were addictive and harmful to its users,” he added.
According to the SMVLC, Spence opened her first Instagram account without her parents’ consent when she was 11. Before accessing Instagram, her family says, she was a happy child who enjoyed reading, writing and helping people. She loved animals and was active in singing competitions and theater.
Almost immediately after opening the app, Spence says she was directed to pages showing self-harm, anorexia and negative body images. She managed to disguise her Instagram from her parents by using a calculator icon to hide her social media accounts and using various devices.
“She learned how to deceive her own family,” Spence’s mother said on “NewsNation Prime.” “Instagram infiltrated our home and destroyed our family structure […] We started losing our daughter.”
The Social Media Victims Law Center says that as a result of what Spence had seen on Instagram, she had to seek professional help in the form of counseling, inpatient programs, outpatient programs, eating disorder programs, and she may require help from a service dog for the rest of her life.
“They [Meta] have the means to stop it, but that would ruin their engagement and in turn lower their profit and they don’t want to hurt their money,” Spence, now 19, told the program.
The lawsuit references the Facebook Papers, research that looked at Instagram’s impact on teenage girls when it comes to thoughts of suicide and eating disorders.
-Anyone experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide is urged to call 911.
-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
-Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a counselor.