DENVER — Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Wednesday he has joined a multistate investigation into the social medial platform TikTok and its effect on children and young adults.
Attorneys general from many states will examine whether TikTok violated state consumer protection laws, according to a news release from Weiser's office.
The investigation will look into TikTok for providing and promoting its platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms, the release says.
“I am committed to protecting our kids from harms related to social media," Weiser says in the release. "TikTok has an obligation to manage its platform fairly and responsibly, and this investigation is designed to do just that."
The investigation will be led by state attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont, the release says.
It will look into any harms that TikTok causes to young users and what the company knew about those harms, with a focus on techniques TikTok uses to boost engagement by children and young adults.
In November, Weiser joined a multistate investigation into how Facebook's practices harmed children. Earlier in the year, he and other state attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over plans for a kids version of Instagram.
Facebook postponed development of Instagram for kids in September after an outcry from parents groups and lawmakers.
What can really come of this investigation?
The attorney general said the investigation can result in collaborating with TikTok or going to court. If that doesn't work, Weiser said he would turn to crafting new legislation.
"The reality is our laws are not fully tested in the digital age, if they are effective and can protect our kids," Weiser said.
Metropolitan State University of Denver professor Samuel Jay is cynical about the reach of this investigation. He said laws are trying to catch up but don't develop anywhere near as fast as apps do.
"Some of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations and FCC changes made, couple of majors ones over the last 25, 30 years, they've both been really catching up to a decades-worth of technology changes when it comes to communications," said Jay.
"At the end of the day, these are for-profit companies with one goal and that's to make money. How do you make money? You keep people on the platform. What are other things we an do as a society to prepare ourselves and kids?"
We asked the question to Denver child psychologist Dr. Jody Thomas.
"It's literally designed to be addictive," said Thomas. "Anyone who's gone on it, it's another one and you keep going. There's the exhaustion factor. Then kids, who don't have fully developed frontal lobes and what we call executive skills, are prone to this."
The debate over media impacts on kids isn't new, and Thomas said it's more than just TikTok. This can apply to other social media platforms, too.
TikTok released a statement saying: "We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community - and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users."
Thomas suggested when you talk to your kids about this, respect how smart they are. Include data on teens and anxiety connected to social media and include them in developing a plan to be able to use these platforms safely.
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