The bipartisan group of state officials wants to know if the social media platform with more than 1 billion users could be harmful to children and young adults.
State attorneys general across the U.S. announced an investigation into TikTok for the potential physical and mental health harm the social media platform could have on children and young adults.
The investigation into TikTok, which has roughly 1 billion active monthly users, will be led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont, Connecticut and South and North Carolina
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Wednesday the investigation is looking to see if the company violated state consumer protection laws and put the public at risk.
“As Attorney General it is my job to protect young people from these online harms," Healey said in a statement. "Today I am co-leading a nationwide coalition to get to the bottom of this company’s engagement with young users, identify any unlawful practices, and end these abuses for good."
In addition, the investigation will look at the potential harms on younger people using the platform that TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, knew about. The investigation focuses on, among other things, the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with it, according to a press release by the California Department of Justice.
“We know this takes a devastating toll on children's mental health and well-being. But we don't know what social media companies knew about these harms and when. Our nationwide investigation will allow us to get much-needed answers and determine if TikTok is violating the law in promoting its platform to young Californians,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.
While the TikTok investigation is new, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III and other AGs have had concerns about the negative impact of social media on the youth. In fact, he led a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general that advised Facebook to ditch its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.
“Facebook has a record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children,” Slatery said in a statement. “Let’s not take their word for it that this time- and with a product specifically created for children- is going to be any different.”
In the letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the coalition contends that Facebook has historically failed to defend the welfare of children on its platforms. Some of the concerns mentioned in their letter include social media’s harmful effect on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children. The letter also states that children are not equipped to handle the challenges that come with having social media accounts, including cyberbullying.
The New York Times reported that several U.S. lawmakers have introduced bills aimed at curbing advertising to children and preventing social media companies from tracking data on young users.
Andre Claudio is an assistant editor at Route Fifty.