Just In: TikTok Faces Investigation Into Its Impact On Young People’s Mental Health

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TikTok is being investigated by a group of state attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, and other states for its possible impact on young people’s mental and physical health (via CNBC). According to Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, the group of AGs is investigating whether the way TikTok creates, runs, and distributes its platform has a harmful impact on the health of children, teens, and young adults.

The algorithm that controls what material users see on TikTok has proven to be extremely effective in keeping users engaged with the app. While the corporation has provided some insight into how it operates, detailed details are difficult to come by outside of leaks and educated conjecture.

According to Healey, the probe would focus on “the tactics and practices” used by TikTok to “increase youthful user engagement, including boosting the duration of time spent on the platform.”

TikTok has already struggled to fulfill the demands of its younger users, having to pay the Federal Trade Commission $5.7 million in 2019 to settle allegations that its predecessor, Musical.ly, failed to obtain proper consent from the parents of young children who signed up to use the app. TikTok was also required under the settlement to carefully control how users under the age of 13 could interact with the app’s content.

Despite its enormous user base, some experts have recently raised concerns about how little studies have looked at TikTok’s potential health effects.

TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe told The Verge that the firm “appreciates[s] that state attorneys general are focused on the safety of younger users,” and that the company is looking forward to “sharing information on the various safety and privacy precautions” it offers to minors.

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The probe may have ramifications beyond TikTok. When it comes to building new features or addressing the future of apps, other social media companies like Meta and Snapchat have been borrowing lessons from the short-form video platform.

It’s hardly unexpected that other applications are copying TikTok’s short-form video approach; according to Meta employees, kids spend more time on TikTok than they do on Instagram, and one research claims that US Android users spend more time viewing TikToks than YouTube videos. However, if the TikTok probe results in legislation or other steps, the copying could lead to heightened scrutiny of other sites.

Regulators have been paying additional attention to children’s internet safety, as The New York Times points out.

President Biden addressed the issue in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, urging Congress to pass legislation governing children’s privacy and advertising, and Facebook (now Meta) was the subject of congressional hearings last year after reports that it knowingly ignored internal research on Instagram’s impact on teen mental health. State attorneys general are also looking at Meta, with a similar focus to the TikTok inquiry launched on Wednesday.

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