You Don't Say: Lawsuit Alleges Employees at Facebook, Snap, and TikTok Knew Social Media Was Addictive

A massive lawsuit filed in California claims that each of these platforms plays into the addiction of its users—which are often children under 18.

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The lawsuit claims that Instagram, for example, can create a “downward spiral” in teen users due to its ability to create a high level of social comparison.
The lawsuit claims that Instagram, for example, can create a “downward spiral” in teen users due to its ability to create a high level of social comparison.
Image: Rohane Hamilton (Shutterstock)

An unsealed lawsuit involving the titans of social media, including Meta, Snap, ByteDance, Google, and their respective companies and employees, alleges they were all privy to the addictive nature of social media—surprising no one.

According to a Bloomberg report, the lawsuit was originally filed with certain portions hidden from the public, but the full, unsealed lawsuit was filed again over the weekend in a federal court in Oakland, California. According to the lawsuit, employees at social media corporations like Meta, Snap, Google, and ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) were aware of the harms of social media—including Meta’s own head honcho Mark Zuckerberg. The case is titled “In Re: Social Media Adolescent Addiction and Personal Injury Products Liability Litigation.”

“No one wakes up thinking they want to maximize the number of times they open Instagram that day. But that’s exactly what our product teams are trying to do,” wrote a Meta employee in 2021, according to the filing. Another reportedly stated: “the tools we currently have aren’t effective at limiting [users’] time on the app.”


More specifically, the complaint cites internal data that internal researchers at Meta disclosed to the company that Instagram can create a high level of social comparison between teen users, which can be exploited and send these users into a “downward spiral.” Documents from Meta published by Gizmodo corroborate this idea of a downward emotion spiral, with the company disclosing in a memo dated March 26, 2020 that “social comparison journeys mimic the grief cycle.”

The lawsuit further alleges that Snap Inc., which refers to itself as a camera company, designs its app to capitalize on teens’ and children’s attachment to instantaneous exchanges and rewards users with different titles and statuses based on their engagement with SnapChat. Likewise, the lawsuit claims that TikTok made a coordinated effort to market to children and that Google’s YouTube was specifically engineered to exploit user addiction.


The Oakland filing consists of complaints filed across the United States, and while all of them feature various accusations, one theme that runs through all pages is addiction. In 2022, a lawsuit filed in Wisconsin on behalf of 17-year-old Christopher J. Dawley states that Meta and Snap “knowingly and purposely” created addictive environments, which led to the teen’s death by suicide in 2015. Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal were also critical of Meta’s plan to open Horizon Worlds to teenage users, calling the platform an “under-researched, potentially dangerous virtual realm” in a letter.