States’ TikTok survey expands scrutiny of popular social media app

TikTok and its possible harmful effects on the mental health of child and adolescent users are being investigated by a bipartisan group of US state attorneys general from coast to coast – the latest issue of the app very popular video sharing platform.

A national survey was announced on Wednesday by a number of states, led by officials from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont. Officials plan to investigate whether using TikTok is harmful to children and teens and whether the company is violating state consumer protection laws by promoting its platform to young people.

The announcement came amid scrutiny of the video-sharing app, which is particularly popular among teenagers and young children and is estimated to have 1 billion monthly users.

Tiktok and children

US lawmakers and federal regulators have criticized TikTok for its computer-driven algorithms, saying it pushes video content that can put the physical and mental health of young users at risk. Last month, Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s Alleged Violations of Children’s Privacy and facilitation of human trafficking.

“While children and adolescents are already struggling with issues of anxiety, social pressure and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental well-being,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. said in a press release.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta noted in a separate statement how “kids are growing up in the age of social media – and many feel they have to come up against the filtered versions of reality they see on their screens”.

“We know this has a devastating effect on children’s mental health and well-being. But we don’t know what the social media companies knew about these harms and when,” Bonta said.

FILE IMAGE – In this photo illustration a TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tiktok’s response to the survey

TikTok, which is intended for users 13 and older, offers a number of resources support families like safety education videos and parent guides. In 2020, the company introduced a feature called Family Pairingwhich allows parents to link their TikTok account to their child’s account and moderate the time children spend on the app and what they see.

TikTok has also sought to tackling the problem of bullying on the app last summer by enlisting some of its top animation creators to share the ways they spread kindness online.

“We care deeply about creating an experience that helps protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that state attorneys general are focused on keeping young users safe,” the company said Wednesday. “We look forward to providing information on the many security and privacy protections we have for teens.”

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Early last year, after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its practices affect children and teens, the platform has strengthened its privacy practices for users under the age of 18.

Wider social media reviews

As its popularity has grown, TikTok has come under a barrage of criticism from state officials, federal regulators, consumer advocates and lawmakers on both sides. Republicans mostly focused on the company’s ties with Chinabecause TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

“TikTok threatens the safety, mental health and well-being of our children,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the lead Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Tuesday.

A similar coalition of state attorneys general launched an investigation in 2021 into Instagram, owned by Facebook parent company Meta, and its impact on young people. The action came after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal company research showing apparent harm to some teenage Instagram users.

The announcement of the new TikTok investigation came a day after President Joe Biden called on Congress to strengthen children’s privacy protections during his State of the Union address.

“As Frances Haugen, who is here with us tonight, has shown, we need to hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they conduct on our children for profit,” Biden said. “It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, to ban targeted advertising to children, to demand that tech companies stop collecting personal data about our children.”

RELATED: Facebook suspends development of ‘Instagram Kids’ app after rejection

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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