Oct 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Utah sues TikTok over alleged mental health harm to youth

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen. Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The state of Utah filed a lawsuit against TikTok on Tuesday for allegedly harming the mental health of children and teens, following in the footsteps of states like Arkansas and Indiana.

The big picture: Utah's lawsuit is the latest effort by state officials to challenge the popular video-sharing platform owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance.

  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox this year signed an age-verification law to prohibit youth under 18 from using social media without their parents' consent.
  • The state also banned TikTok last year on most government-owned devices, citing cybersecurity concerns.

Details: The new lawsuit accuses TikTok of leveraging "highly powerful algorithms and manipulative design features" to entice young users to use the app — a violation of the state's consumer protection laws, per the complaint.

  • As TikTok's popularity has increased, the complaint claims the mental health of Utah minors has worsened.
  • State officials further accuse TikTok of deceiving users and parents when the company says the app is safe for children.
  • The complaint also alleges the social media platform misled consumers about ByteDance's involvement with TikTok's operations. State Attorney General Sean Reyes on Tuesday said he believed Bytedance "effectively controls " TikTok.

The other side: "TikTok has industry-leading safeguards for young people, including an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18 and parental controls for teen accounts," a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement in response to Axios Salt Lake City's inquiry about the lawsuit.

  • "We will continue to work to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges."

What they're saying: "This lawsuit sends a message of warning to other social media platforms. We are not stopping our efforts. Our investigation into TikTok and other companies continues," Reyes said at a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

  • "Make no mistake that Utah will continue to lead out to protect children from the harms of social media," Cox said.

What we're watching: Whether state officials plan to sue other social media companies.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with TikTok's statement.

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