Utah sues TikTok over deceptive practices and its alleged harm to youth
Calling TikTok the “Purdue Pharma of the technology world,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Gov. Spencer Cox announced a lawsuit against the video-driven social media app. Both hope the suit, filed Oct. 10 in Utah’s Third District Court, grabs the attention of other social media companies.
“Like opioids, we've been lied to,” Reyes said, equating the suit to the lengthy case and eventual settlement reached with manufacturer Purdue Pharma over the opioid crisis. “What TikTok releases into our homes was marketed as being safe but is highly addictive. It is very dangerous to our kids and extremely profitable to the company.”
Standing in the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, the governor accused the company of using a highly addictive algorithm to keep children hooked on the platform. The outcome, Cox said, is more youth are struggling with their mental health. To Cox, the suit serves as a warning to all social media companies.
“We will not stand by while these companies fail to take adequate, meaningful action to protect our children. We will prevail in holding social media companies accountable by any means necessary,” he said.
Depression and anxiety, especially among teen girls, have increased over the years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC does not directly link the spike in mental health struggles to social media. The U.S. Surgeon General, though, has issued a warning about the potential negative implications social media can have for adolescents.
In addition to the mental health harms, Reyes also accused TikTok of lying about who operates the company. He believes ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, is in control of the platform. As a result, Reyes said TikTok is “siphoning large amounts of personal data” every time kids log on.
“If parents of our state knew this truth, we believe many would make alternative choices about whether to let their children use the app,” he said.
Cox and Reyes said the goal of the lawsuit is for social media companies to put up “guardrails and safeguards that are actually enforced.” Both want TikTok and other social media companies to work with the state and at this point, they believe the best way to make that happen is through legal action.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed and the governor signed two laws targeting social media companies.
One bill, SB152, requires social media companies to verify the age of all users. It also forces the companies to give parents access to their children’s social media accounts and places time restrictions on when minors can use the apps. The law doesn’t go into effect until March 2024. and Constitutionality questions around the law have already been raised.
The other bill, HB311, blocks minors from signing contracts with social media companies. It also forces such platforms to disable the “addictive features” embedded into them.
“We can pass laws, but if the private sector companies that are exploiting our children aren't cooperating with us, then those laws are very difficult to enforce,” Reyes said.
While Utah is currently only suing TikTok, Reyes said the state is “looking at all social media platforms that could potentially be harming our youth,” but did not mention any companies by name.