Health & Science

U.S. states launch an investigation on TikTok’s harmful effects on children

Several states in the U.S. have launched an investigation on the possible harm of TikTok on children’s mental health.

TikTok dance children
© Artem Podrez

The probe was announced on March 2 by a number of states led by California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, the video social media platform has an estimated 1 billion monthly users. It is especially popular among teenagers and young children. But it is under scrutiny by the U.S. government on its effects on children, along with user privacy.

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden asked Congress to bolster privacy protections for children, including by banning advertising targeted at them and with measures aimed at reducing the promotion of content that contributes to addiction.

Government officials and child-safety advocates consider that TikTok can foster eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in young viewers. Its constant and addictive algorithm-based push of short videos can be particularly worrying.

TikTok threatens the safety, mental health and well-being of our kids,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican congresswoman from the state of Washington, said at a hearing Tuesday.

Concerns about TikTok user experience and privacy

Some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users for a more appropriate experience for this audience according to TikTok. Screen-time management can also be implemented to limit how long children are on the app.

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

Early last year, TikTok tightened its privacy practices for users under 18 after federal regulators ordered it to disclose how its practices affect children and teenagers. Last month, Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking.

Late last year a similar coalition of state attorneys general began an investigation into Instagram and its effects on young people. It came after a former Facebook employee leaked internal company research showing apparent harm to some teen users of Instagram.

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