A coalition of prosecutors from California, Florida, Kentucky and more is investigating TikTok’s potential effect on the mental and physical health of young people (via CNBC† The group of AGs is looking at whether the way TikTok designs, operates and markets its platform is negatively impacting the health of children, teens and young adults, according to a press release from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
TikTok’s algorithm controls what content users see and has proven to be remarkably effective in keeping users engaged with the app. While the company has provided some insight into how it works, it’s hard to get exact details outside of leaks and well-founded guesswork. The Attorney General may want to change that — the investigation will focus on “the methods and techniques” TikTok uses to “increase the engagement of young users, including extending the time spent on the platform.” said Healey.
TikTok has struggled in the past to meet the needs of its younger users — it had to pay $5.7 million to the FTC in 2019 to settle allegations that its predecessor, Musical.ly, didn’t get proper parental consent. of young children who signed up to use the app. The settlement also required TikTok to strictly limit the way users under the age of 13 could interact with content on the app. Recently, some researchers have sounded the alarm about how few studies there have been on TikTok’s potential health effects, despite its huge user base.
TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe told The edge that the company “values”[s] that the state’s attorneys general focus on the safety of younger users” and looks forward to “providing information about the many security and privacy protections” it has for teens.
The research could have an impact beyond just TikTok. Other social media companies such as Meta and Snapchat have taken advantage of the short video platform when designing new features or discussing the future of apps. Other apps duplicating TikTok’s short video model isn’t surprising; Meta contributors reportedly estimated that teens spent more than double the time on TikTok that they spent on Instagram, and one report estimated that US Android users spent more time watching TikToks than YouTube videos. But the copying could lead to other platforms gaining more attention if the TikTok investigation leads to legislation or other actions.
Such as The New York Times points out that regulators have paid extra attention to the safety of children online. Speaking on the subject in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden called on Congress to pass laws regulating privacy and advertising for children, and Facebook (now Meta) was at the center of congressional hearings last year after reports who deliberately ignored internal research into Instagram’s effect on teen mental health. Meta is also facing its own attorney general investigation, with a similar focus to the TikTok investigation announced Wednesday.