The state claims that TikTok deceives children and parents alike, using “manipulative” algorithms to keep teenagers glued to their screens for hours at a time.
Utah has filed a lawsuit against TikTok, claiming that the popular social media application uses algorithms and other technology to keep children addicted to material that is often harmful.
In its complaint, the state said that TikTok intentionally misrepresents its safety and erroneously portrays itself as independent of its China-based parent company, ByteDance.
“We will not stand by while these companies fail to take adequate, meaningful action to protect our children,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “We will prevail in holding social media companies accountable by any means necessary.”
The lawsuit purportedly cites public health reports, including research showing that children who spend three or more hours per day on social media are at increased risk for poor mental health outcomes.
“TikTok designed and employs algorithm features that spoon-feed kids endless, highly curated content from which our children struggle to disengage,” state Attorney General Sean Reyes said at the press conference. “TikTok designed these features to mimic a cruel slot machine that hooks kids’ attention and does not let them go.”
“Even worse,” Reyes said, “TikTok has trained its computer program to continuously learn how to better manipulate our kids to stay on the app for too long and to return to the app as often as possible.”
Reyes and the state claim that TikTok has made money from the exploitation of children, and continues to profit from its overtly addicting features.
“TikTok directly profited from addicting children to the app and continued to capitalize on the addictive nature of the app despite knowing the harm that addiction would cause Utah’s children,” the lawsuit alleges.
Utah is asking a court to force TikTok to change its “destructive behavior,” while also imposing fines and penalties.
Any settlement or award would be used to fund in-state educational initiatives.
However, TikTok has since denied any wrongdoing, saying that it uses state-of-the-art technology to keep children safe.
“TikTok has industry-leading safeguards for young people, including an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18 and parental controls for teen accounts,” TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We will continue to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges.”
The lawsuit alleges that TikTok’s actions violate aspects of the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act.
“TikTok lied to parents to create a false sense of security,” Reyes said.
The state is seeking corrective action and damages “well in excess of $300,000.”