States launch investigation into TikTok’s effect on children’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — State attorneys general have launched a nationwide investigation into TikTok and its possible harmful effects on the mental health of young users, expanding government scrutiny of the wildly popular video platform.

The investigation was announced Wednesday by a number of states led by California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

US lawmakers and federal regulators have criticized TikTok, citing practices and computerized content promotion that they say can endanger the physical and mental health of young users. The platform has around 1 billion monthly users and is especially popular with teenagers and young children.

Last month, Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and the facilitation of human trafficking.

“Our children are growing up in the age of social media – and many feel they must compete with the filtered versions of reality they see on their screens,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. A press release. “We know this has a devastating effect on children’s mental health and well-being.”

Bonta said the investigation is aimed at determining whether TikTok is breaking the law by promoting its platform to young people.

Government officials and child safety advocates argue that TikTok’s computer algorithms that push video content towards users may promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide among young viewers.

TikTok said it is focusing on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, aren’t available to younger users.

“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.”

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

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 have particularly emphasized the company’s ties to China. 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.

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