• Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022

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States Investigate TikTok Over Potential Harms to Younger Users

A bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced on Wednesday that it had opened an investigation into TikTok and potential harms that the popular social media app may pose to younger users.

At least eight states are investigating if the design and promotion of TikTok contribute to physical and mental health harms for teenagers and young adults and if the company has violated state consumer protection laws. The examination of TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is similar to an investigation into Facebook that the coalition of attorneys general began in November. (Facebook’s parent company has been renamed Meta.)

The states, led by Massachusetts, Nebraska and California, are investigating how TikTok may have tried to boost engagement and keep young users hooked to the app.

“As children and teens already grapple with issues of anxiety, social pressure and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental well-being,” Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “State attorneys general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives.”

TikTok said it had added new safety and privacy measures aimed at protecting teenage users.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said in a statement.

The issue of online child safety has taken center stage in Washington, and social media companies have come under intense scrutiny over their potential harms to children and teens. Leaked internal documents from a Facebook whistle-blower last year revealed the company had found that some teenage users of Instagram felt worse about themselves and their body images after using the app.

Several members of Congress, in hearings late last year on child online safety, said they had heard from families that teen girls were directed to harmful content on Instagram that contributed to eating disorders and self harm. Since then, lawmakers have introduced several bills aimed at curbing targeted advertising to children and preventing social media companies from tracking data on young users.

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden urged privacy and other regulatory protections for youth online, saying, “We must hold social media accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”