Mar 2, 2022 - Technology

State AGs launch investigation into TikTok

Illustration of hands fighting over the Tik Tok logo.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A bipartisan group of attorneys general launched an investigation Wednesday into whether TikTok is harming children and teens' mental health.

Driving the news: Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont will investigate if using TikTok is harmful to young adults, and if TikTok was aware about such harms, per an announcement from Massachusetts AG Maura Healey.

Why it matters: Regulators have shown an interest in passing legislation to stem the influence of tech platforms on kids and teens, and expressed concern about the mental health impacts that may result from using apps like TikTok and Instagram.

  • Questions about TikTok misinformation are on the rise as well, exacerbated by people posting about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

What they're saying: “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 Attorney General Maura Healey said in a release.

  • “State attorneys general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives.”
  • "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 to Axios. "We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens."
  • President Biden said during his State of the Union address Tuesday that social media platforms must be held accountable "for the national experiment they're conducting on our children for profit" and called for increased privacy protections, a ban on targeted advertising to children and a stop to collecting personal data on children.

Details: Per the announcement, the investigation will focus "on the methods and techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including increasing the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform."

Flashback: Last November, state AGs launched an investigation into Meta for how Instagram affects kids.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that the investigation was launched on Wednesday, not Thursday, and that the State of the Union was on Tuesday, not Wednesday.

Go deeper