Utah became the latest state Tuesday to file a lawsuit against TikTok, alleging the company is “baiting” children into addictive and unhealthy social media habits.
TikTok lures children into hours of social media use, misrepresents the app’s safety and deceptively portrays itself as independent of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, Utah claims in the lawsuit.
“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,” Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Salt Lake City.
Indiana and Arkansas have filed similar lawsuits, while the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide whether state attempts to regulate social media platforms such as Facebook, X and TikTok violate the Constitution.
Public health concerns are cited in the Utah lawsuit. Research has shown that children who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of poor mental health, including anxiety and depression, the lawsuit alleges.
“TikTok designed and employs algorithm features that spoon-feed kids endless, highly curated content from which our children struggle to disengage. TikTok designed these features to mimic a cruel slot machine that hooks kids’ attention and does not let them go,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said at the news conference.
The lawsuit seeks to force TikTok to change its “destructive behavior” while imposing fines and penalties to fund education efforts and otherwise address damage done to Utah children, Reyes said.
“TikTok has industry-leading safeguards for young people, including an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18 and parental controls for teen accounts. We will continue to work to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges,” TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said in an emailed statement.
Utah earlier this year became the first state to pass laws that aim to limit children and teen use of social media apps such as TikTok. The laws are set to take effect next year.
They will impose a digital curfew on people under 18, which will require minors to get parental consent to sign up for social media apps and force companies to verify the ages of all their Utah users.
They also require tech companies to give parents access to their kids’ accounts and private messages, raising concern among some child advocates about further harming children’s mental health. Depriving children of privacy, they say, could be detrimental for LGBTQ+ kids whose parents are not accepting of their identity.