Jonathan Ambarian

HELENA (KPAX) — Montana’s attorney general, currently involved in a legal battle over the app TikTok, has now filed suit against another social media platform.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen filed a complaint in federal district court on Friday, December 1, 2023, accusing Instagram of exposing minors to inappropriate content and improperly collecting their data. He asked for an injunction to stop the platform and its operators from making what he described as “deceptive and unfair statements” about its content and policies.

The suit names Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, as a defendant, along with a number of its subsidiaries.

“Meta must be held accountable for its deceptive practices and the harm it has caused,” Knudsen said in a statement. “Instagram's intentional addictive design and its failure to address the rampant presence of harmful content on its platform, including explicit drug promotion and sexual exploitation, pose serious risks to the mental health and well-being of young Montanans.”

Knudsen’s complaint says Instagram claims on the Apple, Google and Microsoft app stores to be appropriate for teens because it includes only infrequent or mild profanity, sexual content and alcohol, tobacco and drug references. However, it says the state and others have conducted investigations using test accounts that professed to be from 13-year-olds, and they found it was easy to search for and find much more prevalent and more adult content.

It also says Instagram’s algorithms can start delivering that content to young users.

“Whether by design or by failure, Defendants’ moderators miss large amounts of mature content on Instagram, leaving young Montanans regularly exposed to it,” the complaint said.

The state also accuses Instagram of violating a federal requirement to get parents’ permission before collecting data from a child under the age of 13. Instagram policies require all users to be at least 13 years old, and they must submit their birthday for verification. However, the complaint argues there’s no confirmation that those birthdays are accurate, and it points to reports that show many children younger than 13 have used Instagram.

Instagram’s website says they use birthday information to ensure safer and age-appropriate experiences for young users, and that they will review and remove accounts of users under the age of 13.

Knudsen’s office told MTN News that the only link between this action and the state’s legal fight over a ban on TikTok is a general concern about social media companies’ business practices. They said the attorney general is concerned about how all platforms may be deceiving consumers and harming children and teens.

Montana is far from the only state with concerns about Instagram. Earlier this year, 33 states filed a lawsuit claiming the app included manipulative features that “addicted’ young users. Several other states have filed their own independent suits.