TikTok and Meta Face Government Scrutiny Over Potential Harm to Child Users

Viewers of the State of the Union address delivered by President Biden last week may have noticed his criticism of targeted advertising to child users of social media. Other government officials share his concerns, fueled in part by testimony from Frances Haugen. The former Facebook employee, who attended the State of the Union address, disclosed research that the tech giant had conducted on the effects of its products on the mental health of teenagers. The documents revealed by Haugen also appeared to show that Facebook had not responded to these concerns in a meaningful way. Congress responded by holding hearings to discuss how tech companies can protect child users more effectively. In addition, two senators introduced a bill last month that would require online platforms to provide safeguards that children and their parents can use to control their experience and personal data.

Now, the attorneys general of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont are pursuing investigations of TikTok and Meta, the parent company of Facebook. The TikTok investigation arises from concerns that the video platform may have violated consumer protection laws by undermining the physical or mental health of children, potentially exacerbating their risk of conditions such as depression and anxiety. The attorneys general will evaluate TikTok strategies that encourage users to spend more time in the app and use it more often, among other issues. In addition to exploring any negative effects of TikTok usage on children, the attorneys general will try to find out what the platform may have known about these effects. TikTok has stated that it plans to cooperate with the investigation and will share information about its protections for young users with the attorneys general.

Meanwhile, the same group of attorneys general is investigating the strategies by which Meta has promoted Instagram to children and young adults. They will look into the techniques by which Meta aims to increase the frequency and duration of engagement by young users, as well as the negative effects of this engagement. This investigation arises in part from documentation revealing that Meta may have known that Instagram use is linked to an increased risk of serious physical and mental health problems among children, such as depression and eating disorders. The attorneys general seek to identify any violations of state consumer protection laws arising from these strategies.

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