On Tuesday, a group of over 40 states filed a lawsuit against Meta, accusing the social media giant of developing products intentionally designed to create addiction and exacerbate the mental health crisis among youth.

The lawsuits claim that Meta misled the public about the harm caused by Facebook and Instagram, which, according to the attorneys general, "exploit and manipulate" children.

Some observers have compared this legal action to the lawsuits in the 1990s against major tobacco companies that led to new restrictions on tobacco industry marketing.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, expressed hope that these lawsuits would prompt Meta to make similar changes.

"Today, when we see people smoking, they're a small minority, and we think, 'What are they doing?'" Twenge said. "Maybe in the future, we'll think that about 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds on social media."

More than 30 states have joined a federal lawsuit against Meta, along with Arizona, New York, West Virginia, and others. Other attorneys general, including those in Tennessee and Washington, D.C., filed similar state-level lawsuits on Tuesday.

In total, more than 40 states are painting a picture of a company that has ignored the safety of its products to addict as many young people as possible for profit.

Authorities claim that Meta's dopamine-driven features have poisoned the mental health of an entire generation, citing the recommendation algorithm that determines what people see when they log into Instagram and Facebook, the ability to "like" posts, and endless scrolling.

The lawsuits aim to have Meta's design features deemed unlawful under state consumer protection laws, which could result in substantial financial penalties. State attorneys general are also asking the courts to compel the company to make significant changes to Facebook and Instagram to make the platforms safer for young people.

Generally, social media companies are not legally responsible for user-generated content under Section 230, a law that has shielded the tech industry for decades.

Legal experts say that Meta is likely to invoke Section 230 as part of its defense, but state prosecutors have crafted the lawsuits in the hope of bypassing the law since the allegations focus on violations of consumer protection and child safety laws rather than specific content.

Similar lawsuits against tech companies have had mixed results in courts: some judges have allowed cases to proceed despite Section 230, while others have dismissed lawsuits due to its strong legal protections.

"I think it's very much up in the air whether Meta will succeed in using Section 230 as a defense," said Jeff Kosseff, a law professor and author of the new book "The Liar in Your Life: The Freedom of Speech in an Age of Misinformation."

Kosseff continued, "Courts are increasingly concluding that Section 230 isn't a defense in lawsuits arising from product design claims, although the line isn't always clear."

In a statement, Meta spokesperson Nkechi Nneji said that the company shares the states' desire to ensure a safe and positive online experience for teenagers. She added that the company has introduced a range of features to support young users and their families.

"We're disappointed that instead of productive collaboration with industry companies to create clear, age-appropriate standards for many apps used by teens, Attorneys General chose this route," Nneji said.

The legal battles come after The Wall Street Journal revealed a secret internal study by Meta, which showed that the company was aware of the harm that Instagram was causing to the mental health of many teenagers, especially teenage girls, some of whom developed body image issues after using the platform.

According to one of the internal findings reported during the Facebook Files investigation in 2021, 32% of teenage girls who felt bad about their bodies said that using Instagram made them feel worse.

The link between teenage mental health and social media has sparked heated debates.

Twenge from the University of California, San Diego, has conducted several nationwide surveys of teenagers, and some of her work has been cited by prosecutors in the legal proceedings. She argues that teenagers are experiencing a mental health crisis. She points out that from 2011 to 2021, depression among teenagers doubled. Various experts cite multiple variables, but Twenge said that social media is the obvious driver.

"No other explanation really fits why we would have a doubling of depression among teenagers at a time when the economy was doing well, crime was going down, and almost all other indicators of teenagers were improving, but they were spending much more time on social media, much less time with each other in person, and much less time sleeping," she said.