A newly unsealed court document from an ongoing federal lawsuit against Meta alleged that the tech giant knowingly refused to shut down the majority of Instagram accounts of children under the age of 13 since at least 2019 while collecting their personal information without their parent’s consent, the media reported.

Meta has been accused of receiving over a million reports of under-13 users on Instagram from parents, friends, and online community members between early 2019 and mid-2023 by 33 US state attorneys general, reports CNN.

However, “Meta disabled only a fraction of those accounts,” the complaint stated.

The federal complaint seeks court orders prohibiting Meta from engaging in the practices that the attorneys general claim are illegal.

As Meta allegedly hosts millions of teen and child users, civil penalties could total hundreds of millions of dollars. Most states seek fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 per violation, the report mentioned.

According to the lawsuit, the tech giant violated a number of state-based consumer protection statutes as well as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which restricts companies from gathering personal information about children under the age of 13 without the consent of a parent.

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“Instagram’s Terms of Use prohibit users under the age of 13 (or higher in certain countries) and we have measures in place to remove these accounts when we identify them. However, verifying the age of people online is a complex industry challenge,” Meta was quoted as saying.

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The unsealed complaint also claims that Meta was aware that its algorithm could direct children to harmful content, endangering their well-being, the report noted.

Meanwhile, hundreds of families are suing social media giants like TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Meta in the US and they feel the tech companies as “big, bad monsters”.

According to the BBC, the plaintiffs include ordinary families and school districts from across the US.

“I literally was trapped by addiction at age 12. And I did not get my life back for all of my teenage years,” Taylor Little, now 21, was quoted as saying.

Taylor’s social media addiction led to suicide attempts and years of depression.

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