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Mom sues Meta and Snap over her daughter's suicide

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The mother of an 11-year-old girl who killed herself last year is suing Facebook parent company Meta and social media company Snap, alleging they are responsible for her daughter's death.

In the lawsuit, Tammy Rodriguez accuses the two companies, Meta-owned Instagram, and Snap-owned messaging app Snapchat of causing her daughter, Selena Rodriguez, to become addicted to what the complaint calls their "dangerous and defective social media products."

Selena Rodriguez took her own life last July "after struggling with the harmful effects of social media," her mother, of Enfield, Connecticut, alleges in the suit, which was filed in San Francisco federal court on Thursday. More broadly, the complaint claims the apps are explicitly designed to "exploit human psychology" through the use of sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence. 

The litigation comes as social media companies face growing scrutiny for the effects on younger users. It also comes after former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen in October told lawmakers that Facebook prioritizes profit over user safety. In November, meanwhile, 10 states launched a probe into whether Meta violated consumer protection laws by trying to attract kids to its platforms, including Instagram.

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"Facebook, now Meta, has 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," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the effort.

At the time, a Meta spokesperson said the company has "led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders."

"Unreasonably dangerous"

The social media giants have spent billions to encourage addictive use of their platforms and despite having the resources to design products that are safe for ordinary consumers, including minors, Rodriguez alleged in her suit. 

That business models depends on maximizing users' screen time. Neither app costs anything to download. Instead, they make their money from selling advertisements, and the more time a user spends on the platform, the more ads they can view. Internal Meta documents refer to reduced time spent on the app by minors as an "existential threat" to its business, the lawsuit states. 

The complaint also accuses Snap of deliberately encouraging "extreme and addictive behaviors by its largely teenage and young-adult users." Similarly, Instagram's design, in the hands of children, "is unreasonably dangerous to the mental well-being of underage users' developing minds," the lawsuit contends. 

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Rodriguez, who is represented by Social Media Victims Law Center, a Seattle, Washington-based legal group focused on the social media industry, said her daughter used the apps for two years before her death. She added that her efforts to limit her daughter's social media use "caused Selena to run away in order to access her social media accounts on other devices," according to the suit. 

A therapist who treated Selena Rodriguez said "she had never seen a patient as addicted to social media as Selena."

The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the addiction, causing her to become increasingly depressed and sleep-deprived, the lawsuit claims. 

Snap said it is committed to keeping its users safe. 

"We are devastated to hear of Selena's passing and our hearts go out to her family. While we can't comment on the specifics of active litigation, nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community," a Snap spokesperson said. "In fact, Snapchat helps people communicate with their real friends, without some of the public pressure and social comparison features of traditional social media platforms, and intentionally makes it hard for strangers to contact young people." 

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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