The attorneys general plan to investigate how TikTok affects young users’ mental health–and whether the platform has taken any steps to ensure their safety and security.
A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general have opened an investigation into TikTok.
According to CNBC, the prosecutors seek to determine whether the social media and video-sharing platform adversely impacts young users’ physical and mental health, presumably in violation of state or federal law.
The investigation is but the latest probe into TikTok and part of a greater push to protect children online.
The latter priority, notes CNBC, was highlighted by President Joe Biden in his recent State of the Union address.
In particular, Biden said that the federal government, along with its state-level partners, should ban social media platforms from advertising to children.
Biden’s statements were prompted, at least in part, by a recent leak. Late last year, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen released a trove of internal corporate documents showing that the company had conducted its own research into the impact of its products on teenagers’ mental health.
Critically, Facebook found that subsidiary Instagram adversely affects many teenage girls’ self-esteem.
However, the company did not drastically change its use policies and algorithms, noting that the most dangerous Instagram features were among its most popular.
Announcing the investigation, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said that political leaders have an obligation to shield children from unwarranted harm.
“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,” Healey said.
Healey and her colleagues plan to scrutinize how TikTok may have harmed young users, and whether TikTok was aware that its product might have detrimental mental health effects.
The attorneys generals’ investigation will place particular emphasis on the techniques TikTok uses to boost user engagement, screen-time usage, and frequency of usage.
A spokesperson for TikTok said the company has always endeavored to protect its youngest users and will supply information explaining the application’s current safeguards.
“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 spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”
The probe, says CNBC, is led by the attorneys general of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont.
The same group of attorneys general has already launched a similar investigation into Facebook’s parent company, Meta, which owns and operates Instagram. They have also pressured Meta to abandon plans to create an Instagram corollary specifically made for children.