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TikTok impact on children's mental health to face US state attorneys-general investigation

A bipartisan investigation will analyse if usage of TikTok is harming young users, and whether or not TikTok is aware of these harms.
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Written by Campbell Kwan, Journalist on
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Image: Getty Images

A group of US state attorneys-general have launched an investigation into the impact TikTok has on the mental and physical health of children, teenagers, and young adults.

The bipartisan investigation will analyse if usage of TikTok is harming young users, and whether or not TikTok knew about those harms. As part of the investigation, the attorneys-general will look into the methods and techniques used by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including increasing the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

There have been dozens of studies over the years showing the damaging effects of social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok on teens and their perceptions of themselves. In a study published in September, the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found that youth who were exposed to online risk factors such as cyberbullying, violence, and hate speech, among others, were significantly associated with subsequent severe suicide/self-harm alerts.  

The investigation will be used to help determine whether TikTok has violated consumer protection laws and put the public at risk, the attorneys-general said.

"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 wellbeing," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.

"State attorneys-general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives."

The TikTok investigation is being led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys-general from the states of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont.

The latest investigation adds another to the pile that have been launched by state attorneys-general to scrutinise the conduct of big tech. Beyond a bipartisan investigation looking into Meta's plan to launch Instagram Kids that was shortly followed by the company pausing the project, there has been limited change arising from these investigations.

Even with Meta's decision to shelve Instagram Kids, that decision was only made after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's leaks came to light.

Around the world, governments are growing more concerned about the adverse mental health impacts that social media platforms have on users. In Australia, the federal government is undertaking its own social media probe and has intentions to launch legislation aimed at requiring social media platforms to do more to protect users. The UK government is also considering similar laws.

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