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Iowa sues TikTok for misleading parents over child protections

Iowa sues TikTok for misleading parents over child protections

Iowa’s attorney general is suing TikTok for allegedly misleading parents about their children’s access to inappropriate content on the company’s app.

In a lawsuit filed in a state court in Polk County, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird accused TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, of lying about the prevalence of content on its platform that included drugs, nudity, alcohol and profanity.

“TikTok has kept parents in the dark,” Ms Bird, a Republican, said. “It’s time we shine a light on TikTok for exposing young children to graphic materials such as sexual content, self-harm, illegal drug use, and worse.”

Iowa is seeking financial penalties and an order barring TikTok from engaging in deceptive and unfair conduct.

TikTok said it “has industry-leading safeguards in place for young people, including parental controls and time limits for those under 18. We are committed to tackling industry-wide challenges and will continue to prioritise community safety.”

It is the latest lawsuit by a US state against TikTok, which is facing pressure from regulators globally to protect children from harmful content.

In October, Utah filed a lawsuit against TikTok, alleging that the company was “baiting” children into addictive and unhealthy social media habits.

The lawsuit claimed 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.

Arkansas and Indiana have filed similar lawsuits.

Iowa’s attorney general is suing TikTok for allegedly misleading parents about inappropriate content (AP)
Iowa’s attorney general is suing TikTok for allegedly misleading parents about inappropriate content (AP)

Research into the TikTok algorithm in 2022 by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found some young users on the app were being shown potentially dangerous content that could encourage eating disorders, self-harm and suicide.

Meanwhile, 2023 research showed a third of 13- to 17-year-olds have seen footage of real-life violence on TikTok.

The company insisted that such research does not reflect the genuine behaviour or viewing experiences of real people who use the app.

Last year, Utah became the first state to pass laws that aim to limit children and teenagers use of social media apps such as TikTok. The laws are set to take effect this 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.

TikTok has also come under scrutiny for its links to the Chinese government.

Earlier this month, Montana said it was appealing a decision by a US judge in November to block Montana’s first-of-its-kind state ban on the use of TikTok.

Montana’s ban had been set to take effect on 1 January but US District Judge Donald Molloy on 30 November issued a preliminary injunction to block the ban, saying Montana’s law “violates the Constitution in more ways than one” and “oversteps state power.”

The bill was initially signed into law by state governor Greg Gianforte in May last year with the aim of “protecting Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance,” he claimed.

Under the law, Montana’s 200,000 TikTok users would not have faced any repercussions for using the app, however TikTok and other companies faced a $10,000 daily fine for each time someone accessed the app or was “offered the ability” to download it.

ByteDance sued Montana in May to “prevent the state of Montana from unlawfully banning TikTok,” the company said at the time, after state officials alleged the Chinese government “could access data about TikTok users, and that TikTok exposes minors to harmful online content.”

TikTok has previously insisted that it does not share data with the Chinese government.

In January 2020, the United States Army and Navy banned TikTok on government devices after the Defense Department labelled it a security risk.

US lawmakers have expressed concern over the ability of the Chinese Communist Party to access the data of US citizens using the app, and have considered implementing a nationwide ban on TikTok.