A nationwide group of state attorneys general – including Josh Stein of North Carolina – have launched an investigation into TikTok’s impact on young Americans, adding to the steady drumbeat of political pressure being applied to social media platforms.

“I’m very concerned about the ways in which social media companies may be using their technology to hook our kids without regard for their emotional or mental health,” Stein said in a statement Wednesday. “This investigation will shed more light on TikTok’s business practices and how they may harm our children. I will do everything in my power to keep North Carolina’s children safe, whether they’re at school, on the playground, or online.”

The probe zeroes in on TikTok’s user engagement techniques and alleged risks that the platform may pose to the mental health of children, according to announcements by the states.

Investigators are probing the company to determine whether any of its practices may run afoul of state consumer protection laws.

Image from NC Attorney General’s office

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong cited “reckless viral challenges” on TikTok as a major source of concern. He added that while TikTok has made some moves to limit harms to children, “our investigation will look at what TikTok knew about the risks to our children, and precisely what they have been doing to keep our kids online.”

In its announcement, the NC AG’s office explained reasons for the probe:

“The investigation will look into the harms such usage causes to young users and what TikTok knows about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques TikTok uses to boost young user engagement, including the amount of time and frequency spent on the platform.”

The list of participating states also includes California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

“Like many parents and caregivers, I continue to be concerned about the negative impact of social media on children and young adults,” said Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan in a statement. “This investigation is about protecting kids and supporting parents. My office will do all that it can to protect young Vermonters from online harms.”

TikTok said in a statement that it limits its features by age, provides tools and resources to parents, and designs its policies with the well-being of young people in mind.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community,” TikTok said, “and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

No more late-night notifications for teens in safety move, says TikTok

News of the probe comes a day after President Joe Biden called for greater accountability of tech platforms “for the national experiment they are conducting on our children for profit.” In his State of the Union address, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to toughen regulations for social media. In a fact sheet, the White House said Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget would propose investing $5 million into research on social media’s impact on mental health.

The multistate probe follows a November 2021 announcement of a similar multistate investigation into platforms owned by Meta, the parent of Facebook and Instagram. Multiple attorneys general also banded together last May calling on Meta to suspend its plan to create a version of Instagram for people younger than 13.

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More about Josh Stein:

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