TikTok is under investigation by a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to determine if the popular short-form video platform’s design, operations or promotion to young users negatively affects their physical or mental health.
The AGs are seeking to find out if the short-form video app violated state consumer-protection laws.
The probe is the latest evidence of momentum behind the push for greater protections for children online. On Tuesday night, President Joe Biden explicitly called for a ban on targeted advertising to children on social media during his State of the Union address.
Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked internal documents that showed the company’s research into the impact of its products on teens’ mental health, was a guest at the annual address. Her testimony before Congress spurred a series of hearings with tech executives on the subject of better protecting kids on their platforms, and helped to inspire new legislation to require more significant guardrails.
“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,” Massachusetts AG Maura Healey, one of the leaders of the coalition, said in a statement.
The AGs will look into potential harms to young people using the app and what TikTok knew about those harms, according to a press release from Healey’s office. That will include looking at techniques TikTok uses to boost engagement, increase the time spent in the app and frequency of usage.
“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,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”
The probe is led by attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.
The same group is also leading an investigation into Facebook parent Meta for allegedly promoting Instagram to young users despite knowledge of its potential harms. Many state AGs had earlier urged the company to abandon plans to launch a kids-specific Instagram vertical, to which it has not fully committed.