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US states investigating TikTok’s impact on children’s mental health

The investigation was announced by California Attorney General Rob Bonta who had earlier announced a nationwide investigation into Instagram for similar reasons.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |
March 3, 2022 3:58:18 pm
Several state attorneys general in the United States have launched an investigation into the video-focused social media platform TikTok to see whether the company is violating state consumer protection laws and putting children and young adults at risk by having a negative impact on their mental health.The investigation will be led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from the states of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. (Image credit: Pixabay)

Several state attorneys general in the United States have launched an investigation into TikTok to see whether the short video platform is violating state consumer protection laws and putting children and young adults at risk by having a negative impact on their mental health.

The investigation will be looking into the harm that TikTok causes to young users and what the company knew about those harms. The techniques used by TikTok to boost user engagement from young users and its strategies and efforts to increase the duration of time spent by young users on the platform will come under scrutiny.

The investigation was announced by California Attorney General Rob Bonta who had earlier announced a nationwide investigation into Meta for the effects that the company’s photo sharing platform Instagram has on young users.

“Our children are growing up in the age of social media – and many feel like they need to measure up to the filtered versions of reality that they see on their screens,” said Attorney General Bonta, while announcing the investigation, according to a press note issued by the office of the attorney general.

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“We know this takes a devastating toll on children’s mental health and well-being. But we don’t know what social media companies knew about these harms and when. Our nationwide investigation will allow us to get much-needed answers and determine if TikTok is violating the law in promoting its platform to young Californians,” added Bonta.

The investigation will be led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from the states of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. A broader group of attorneys general from other parts of the country will also join.

Instagram and its impact on children and young adults

In September last year, the Wall Street Journal published a story based on Facebook’s internal documents which proved that the company knew Instagram was toxic for teenage girls. Since that report, many news organisations had come out with their own findings based on documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The WSJ report asserted that internal studies conducted by Facebook had revealed to the company that Instagram was affecting the mental health of teenage girls, particularly when it came to body image issues. It referred to slides presented to company staff which listed out the adverse effects of the platform on teen health.

The company refuted the claims made against it by WSJ and other publications accused the publication of cherry-picking facts. The media reports prompted Rob Bonta to launch an investigation into the company on November 18 last year. Earlier the same year, Bonta had urged Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram targeted at children. The company later announced that it will ‘pause work’ on Instagram Kids app.

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