A bipartisan group of attorneys general from several US states announced last Wednesday that they had decided to open an investigation into the impact that the popular Chinese application of social network TikTok has on young Americans. Attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont are seeking to learn what methods TikTok uses to keep people on the social network as long as possible. They also seek to determine the potential damage and its effects on both children and young people.
News of the investigation came just a day after President Joe Biden called, during his annual State of the Union address, for greater accountability for tech platforms “for the national experiment that they are doing with our children to obtain benefits”. Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to tighten regulation of social media. In a fact sheet, the White House said Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget would propose spending $5 million on research into the impact of social media on mental health.
“Children and adolescents already deal with problems of anxiety, social pressure and depression, so we cannot allow social networks are harmful their physical health and mental well-being even more,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “Attorneys general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives.”
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong cited “reckless viral challenges” on TikTok as a source of serious concern. And he added that while TikTok has already taken some steps to limit harm to children, “our investigation will assess what TikTok knew about the risks to our children. And precisely what they have been doing to keep our young people connected.”
“Like many parents and caregivers, I remain concerned about the negative impact of social media on children and youth,” Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan said in a statement. “This research is about to protect children and support parents. My office will do everything it can to protect Vermont youth from harm online,” she added.
For its part, TikTok said in a statement that it limits its features by age, provides tools and resources to parents, and designs its policies with the well-being of young people in mind. “We care deeply about building an experience that helps protect and support the well-being of our community,” TikTok said. “And we appreciate that state attorneys general are focused on the safety of younger users. We hope to provide information about the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”
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