Feb 24, 2022 - Technology

Exclusive: Senators press TikTok on eating disorder content

Image of TikTok in lights on a wall
Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have pressed TikTok about content that promotes disordered eating on the platform, per a letter to the company sent Wednesday shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: As TikTok's popularity booms, the video-sharing app is getting more attention from lawmakers concerned about content that circulates on the platform that could harm vulnerable teens and kids.

  • TikTok executives have previously appeared before Congress to discuss the impact of its platform on young people.

Details: Klobuchar and Baldwin cite Wall Street Journal reporting about TikTok's algorithm serving 13-year-olds tens of thousands of weight-loss videos soon after joining the platform. Their letter notes that TikTok's stream of videos exposes users to harmful content even when they haven't sought it out.

What they're saying: "We are deeply disturbed by this report and believe this content violates TikTok's policies related to self-harm, suicide, and dangerous acts," the senators wrote in a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

  • They asked the company to answer questions by March 9.
  • The letter asks TikTok how many of its users have seen content promoting unhealthy eating in 2021, and seeks more information about TikTok's planned changes to its algorithm aimed at curtailing how much material on the same theme it sends users' way.
  • The senators also ask TikTok if it prioritizes videos with high numbers of views while moderating content, and if the company has any plans to introduce new features aimed at reducing harmful content.

Background: The senators recently introduced a bill to provide training and assistance for health care workers, teachers and parents for identifying eating disorders and supporting recovery.

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