Family Sues Meta Due To Teen Daughter's Instagram Addiction, Eating Disorder, And Self-Harm

Alexis Spence is now 20 years old, but she once struggled with her mental health after looking at many pictures of young girls with eating disorders on Instagram.

By Gina Florio2 min read
shutterstock 672358519
Shutterstock/Nadir Keklik

Social media use is more prevalent amongst teens than ever before. In 2016, it was estimated that 90% of all teen girls use social media every single day; simultaneously, these girls are seeing their friends in person less and less. The more screen time young women have every day, the more likely they are to struggle with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. It's no surprise that Alexis Spence struggled so much from using Instagram at a young age. Her family is now suing Meta because of everything she went through.

Family Sues Meta Due to Teen Daughter's Instagram Addiction, Eating Disorder, and Self-Harm

The Spence family, hailing from Long Island, is waging a legal battle against Meta Platforms Inc., blaming the tech giant for the mental health decline of their daughter, Alexis Spence, brought on by her use of Instagram. At just 11, Alexis began using Instagram, initially seeking innocent fun with her Webkinz stuffed animals in their online gaming counterpart. As Alexis navigated the platform, however, she soon found herself immersed in a world of fitness and modeling images, which gradually morphed into exposure to graphic content related to eating disorders. Instagram's algorithms even suggested that she follow users with names like "skin_and_bones" and "apple core anorexic."

Caught in a disturbing web of chat groups demanding daily weigh-ins and calorie logs, Alexis spiraled into a world of peer bullying and harmful competition. Her mental health deteriorated drastically, and by 15, she was grappling with multiple eating disorders, leading to a two-week stint in a psychiatric ward.

In an effort to protect their daughter, Alexis' parents, Kathleen and Jeffrey Spence, implemented stringent parental controls on her phone. But Alexis, like many teenagers today, had discovered ways to circumvent these measures, using a secondary Instagram account and cloaking the app within the iPhone's calculator function.

Kathleen Spence lamented the challenge, "As much as I would do my research on how to protect her, she was 10 steps ahead of me on how to evade us...we were fighting a computer algorithm. We were outnumbered, we were out powered."

The Spences' suspicions about the toxic influence of social media were confirmed with the 2021 revelations by Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who exposed evidence that Facebook, now Meta, knew Instagram could be detrimental to teen girls.

Labeling social media as "the silent killer of our children's generation," the Spences have joined over 1,000 families from the United States and Canada in a lawsuit against social media titans, alleging personal injuries inflicted on their loved ones. These families are represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC) in Seattle.

Matthew Bergman, the law center's founder, said, "Parents are saying enough is enough. These products have to be held accountable."

While the lawsuits face an uphill battle, Bergman advocates for social media companies to operate under the same regulations as other responsible businesses. The fight for accountability was further ignited last week when the Seattle Public School District announced its intention to sue social media giants, including Meta, for fostering a youth mental health crisis.

Despite these allegations, Meta maintains that it has taken significant steps to safeguard teen users on Instagram. Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety at Meta, claimed that they have removed almost all hashtags and users promoting self-harm, suicide, or eating disorders.

Alexis, now 20, no longer uses Instagram and has imposed time limits for herself on other social media platforms. She has a therapy dog assisting her with anxiety symptoms and hopes to voice her experiences before Congress to highlight the dangers of social media.

Reflecting on the struggle, Kathleen Spence questioned, "When are our politicians going to stand up?"

Recently, Instagram introduced "Quiet Mode," a feature that allows users, especially teens, to manage their nighttime use on the platform by silencing notifications and indicating user unavailability. However, as the Spence family and countless others fight for justice, it's clear that the debate surrounding social media's impact on youth mental health is far from quiet.

The story has gone viral on social media and is serving as a warning sign to parents whose daughters have unfettered access to platforms like Instagram. The internet has also become a scary place for young girls as more predators are lurking around than ever before. Supervision is more important than ever to protect minors on social media.