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Collective of US states investigate TikTok’s impact on children

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US states probe TikTok impact on children./AFP
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Mar 03, 2022 - 08:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO – A consortium of US states announced on Wednesday a joint investigation into TikTok’s possible harms to young users of the platform, which has boomed in popularity especially among children.

Officials across the United States have launched their own probes and lawsuits against Big Tech giants as the national government has failed to pass new regulations due in part to partisan gridlock.

The consortium of eight states will look into the harms TikTok can cause to its young users and what the company knew about those possible harms, said a statement from California attorney general Rob Bonta.

Leading the investigation is a coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

The investigation focuses, among other things, on TikTok’s techniques to boost young user engagement, including efforts to increase the frequency and duration of children’s use.

“We don’t know what social media companies knew about these harms and when,” Bonta said in a statement.

“Our nationwide investigation will allow us to get much-needed answers and determine if TikTok is violating the law in promoting its platform to young Californians,” he added.

TikTok’s short-form videos have boomed in popularity with the youngest users, prompting growing concern from parents over the potential their children could develop unhealthy use habits or be exposed to harmful content.

– Series of probes and lawsuits –

The platform welcomed the investigation as a chance to be provide information on its efforts to protect users.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community,” TikTok’s statement said.

“We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens,” it added.

Social media’s impact on young users came under renewed scrutiny last year when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a trove of internal company documents raising questions over whether it had prioritized growth over users safety.

The documents were given to lawmakers, a consortium of journalists and US regulators by Haugen, who has become a figurehead of criticism of the leading social media platform.

While the rush of media attention on the issue and hearings before US lawmakers, no new rules have drawn close to being enacted on the national level.

States have instead proceeded with their own efforts to look into Big Tech companies, but also lawsuits seeking to force the firms to make changes on matters such as privacy protection.

For example, a consortium of US states announced a joint probe in November of Instagram’s parent company Meta for promoting the app to children despite allegedly knowing its potential for harm.

The consortium of attorneys general — states’ top law enforcers and legal advisors — included some of the same states as Wednesday’s probe like California, Florida.

Instagram sparked fierce criticism for its plans to make a version of the photo-sharing app for younger users, but later halted development.

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