States Unite to Investigate TikTok Impact on Youth Mental Health
TikTok has come under intense scrutiny due to concerns over its data privacy practices and violations of consumer protection laws. Recently, a cohort of 46 state attorneys general have united to demand that social media app TikTok produce subpoenaed materials sought in a national consumer protection investigation. The state attorneys have requested to review TikTok’s internal communications to determine whether the company knowingly engaged in deceptive and unconscionable conduct such to harm children and teen users.
“As Attorney General, I will enforce the laws as written, which includes holding TikTok accountable for failing to produce document crucial to our investigation. If TikTok was aware that its app would negatively impact children’s mental health and still chose to participate in behavior that violated consumers’ rights, that is a violation of law. Our office will use every legal tool at our disposal to protect children and conduct our investigation into these allegations.” – Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey
In February of 2023, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings demonstrating a dramatic increase in youth mental health challenges. Further studies, including publications from the U.S. Surgeon General, have cited increased social media use as primary driver of depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems in American teens, a trend which was exacerbated by the isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past two decades, more and more of our lives have moved onto social media platforms and other digital public spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated this trend. During the pandemic, the time teenagers spent in front of screens for activities not related to school more than doubled, from 3.8 to 7.7 hours per day. In 2020, 81% of 14- to 22-year-olds said they used social media either “daily” or “almost constantly.
In these digital public spaces, which are privately owned and tend to be run for profit, there can be tension between what’s best for the technology company and what’s best for the individual user or for society. Business models are often built around maximizing user engagement as opposed to safeguarding users’ health and ensuring that users engage with one another in safe and healthy ways. This translates to technology companies focusing on maximizing time spent, not time well spent.” – U.S. Surgeon General Advisory, Protecting Youth Mental Health
An amicus brief submitted by the state attorneys cited concerns with certain features unique to the TikTok app: “Since its launch in 2017 in the U.S., TikTok has taken steps to greatly increase the amount of time teens use the platform through addictive features like infinite scrolling, algorithmic manipulation, and other platform design features… Habitual use of these platforms appears to affect how young users’ brains mature and may degrade – possibly for life – young users’ ability to regulate their behavior.”
Read the amicus brief here.