Thank goodness South Dakota has a liberal Attorney General. During his first stint as South Dakota’s top lawyer, Marty Jackley helped expand government by winning South Dakota the right to reach across its borders and wring sales tax out of remote online vendors. Now Jackley is pursuing the liberal goal of whacking Meta/Facebook for pursuing its capitalist ends and creating a product that lots of young people want to use.
Attorney General Jackley announced last week that he has signed South Dakota on with 32 other states, led by liberal California, to sue Meta in federal court for deliberately addicting (I’m surprised Jackley and the complaint don’t say grooming) adolescents to Facebook and Instagram. On face, the lawsuit sounds like the same argument we could make about any publisher or broadcaster that makes money from advertising:
First, Meta’s business model is based on maximizing the time that young users spend on its Social Media Platforms. Meta targets young users and incentivizes its employees to develop ways to increase the time that young users spend on its Platforms. The more time young users spend on Instagram and Facebook, the more Meta earns by selling advertising targeted to those users.
Second, consistent with this business model, Meta has developed and refined a set of psychologically manipulative Platform features designed to maximize young users’ time spent on its Social Media Platforms. Meta was aware that young users’ developing brains are particularly vulnerable to certain forms of manipulation, and it chose to exploit those vulnerabilities through targeted features such as: (a) dopamine-manipulating recommendation algorithms; (b) “Likes” and social comparison features known by Meta to harm young users; (c) audiovisual and haptic alerts that incessantly recall young users to Meta’s Social Media Platforms while at school and during the night; (d) visual filter features known to promote young users’ body dysmorphia; and (e) content-presentation formats, such as infinite scroll, designed to discourage young users’ attempts to self-regulate and disengage with Meta’s Platforms. [Attorneys General, complaint, States v. Meta, U.S. District Court for Northern California, 2023.10.24, p. 7].
And we never sued the television networks for Saturday morning cartoons, or Nickelodeon for all-day kids’ programming?
The actual lawbreaking cited by the attorneys general consists of lying about the harms social media can do to adolescents in violation of 29 states’ consumer protection laws against unfair and/or deceptive practices (including consumer protection laws in liberal California, New York, Illinois, and Minnesota and more conservative Kansas, Nebraska, and North Dakota; Attorney General Jackley apparently could not find any South Dakota consumer protection laws to throw at Meta), collecting kids’ personal data without parental permission in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and “unlawful acts under common law principles.”
Jackley and his friends do hint at a useful critique of the surveillance-capitalism monster. They note that Facebook and Instagram aren’t “free”—Meta “charges its users by collecting their data and time, which Meta then converts into advertising dollars” [complaint, p. 10]. That’s the fundamental danger to all consumers, young and old, that Shoshana Zuboff sees in the 21st-century information economy: capitalism now extracts human beings’ experience to produce benefits not for the humans who provide that valuable data but to corporate clients who further manipulate those humans and deny them their free will.
Checking surveillance capitalism, especially against more easily manipulable children, could be good for humanity. But checking capitalism requires government regulation. Jackley and his one-party regime have regularly preached unchecked capitalism back in South Dakota, but as was the case with increasing sales tax, Jackley is willing to go to court to expand government power.