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Several states are investigating how Instagram keeps kids on the platform

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The coalition is concerned after reports indicate Instagram is bad for children’s mental health

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A group of state attorneys general has announced an investigation into “the techniques utilized by Meta to increase the frequency and duration of engagement” of children and teens on Instagram and the negative effects that may cause (via The Wall Street Journal). The group, which includes officials from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont, accuses the company of doing this despite reports that its own research showed its platform could have a negative effect on young people.

The research in question was exposed in a report from the Wall Street Journal, which said the company’s own documents show “Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls.” It was later discussed in a Senate hearing, where Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said that the company is unlikely to change its habit of putting profits above people’s well-being. The investigation will be looking into whether the company broke consumer protection laws in its quest to keep people engaging with content on Instagram.

This group of attorneys general isn’t the only one taking action against Meta — Ohio’s attorney general is suing the company separately, accusing the company of misleading the public about its products’ effects on children. Meta said the suit was “without merit” and has largely pushed back against the reports from outlets like the WSJ, saying that the research published lacked context.

Some of the attorneys general involved in the investigation announced on Thursday were involved in an effort earlier this year to convince Meta — then Facebook — to stop working on an Instagram for kids. The company had previously announced its goal of making a version of the social network for people younger than 13 and would later say it was “pausing” work on it. Senate and House lawmakers have called the pause “insufficient,” arguing that the company had “completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online, and it must completely abandon” the project.

The company has made it clear that it wants to focus on the younger generation amid internal concerns that it’s struggling to attract and keep the attention of teens and 20-somethings. Mark Zuckerberg himself said in October that he wanted “serving young adults” to be some teams’ “north star.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is co-leading the investigative effort with Nebraska’s AG, said in a press release that Meta “failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health — exploiting children in the interest of profit.” She vowed that the coalition would “get to the bottom of this company’s engagement with young users, identify any unlawful practices, and end these abuses for good.”

Correction November 18th, 6:53PM ET: The original version of this post misstated that the Ohio attorney general was suing the state. The suit is actually against Meta.