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Content warning: This story discusses eating disorders.
A California family is suing Meta after claiming Instagram led their daughter to suicidal ideation, self-harm, an eating disorder and more.
Kathleen and Jeffrey Spence as well as their daughter Alexis Spence, now 19, filed a personal injury and loss of consortium lawsuit against the platform on June 6.
In court documents obtained by E! News, the Spence family claim that Alexis was easily able to open an Instagram account at 11 years old—a violation of the app’s minimum age requirement of 13—without her parents’ consent which contributed to her declining mental health as a teen.
The family has requested a trial by jury and is seeking monetary damages for past and future physical as well as mental pain and suffering plus punitive damages.
E! News has reached out to Meta, Instagram’s parent company, for comment and has not heard back. A spokesperson declined to comment to NBC News due to it being “active litigation.”
In court documents, the family cites The Facebook Papers—internal company documents that were leaked last October—which reveal the tech company knew that Instagram was causing body image and mental health issues, particularly in the case of teenage girls.
In their lawsuit, the family claim Alexis “was addicted to Meta’s product and spent increasing amounts of time on social media, specifically, perusing content recommended and/or made available to her by Meta, which increasingly included underweight models, unhealthy eating, and eating disorder content.”
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The family allege that as Alexis’ social media addiction grew worse, she “became sleep deprived, became anxious, and felt guilty about what she was doing to her family,” who did not know that she was operating multiple accounts online.
They also added that because of “Instagram’s addictive design and product features,” her “relationship with her parents greatly suffered,” noting that it often felt like it was “her and her devices against her parents.”
As a result of Instagram pushing “extreme weight loss content” onto Alexis’ feed, her parents claim she became “obsessed with her weight,” adding, “From the outset, Alexis’ Explore page was filled with nothing but overly thin models and thigh gaps.”
In 2018, Alexis, who was described in the suit as a “confident and happy child,” was hospitalized for depression, anxiety and anorexia. The family alleges that it was a direct result of “the harmful content and features Instagram relentlessly promoted and provided to her in its effort to increase engagement.”
The suit alleged that, following her hospitalization, Alexis has undergone “professional counseling, in-patient programs, outpatient programs, and eating disorder programs, and she will likely require help in the form of a service dog for the rest of her life.”
“She must stay in constant contact with her doctors, and fights to stay in recovery every day,” the documents continued. “Alexis will suffer permanent mental and emotional damages because of what Instagram has done.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.