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Utah files lawsuit against TikTok, accusing it of harming youth

Posted at 9:42 AM, Oct 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-10 19:39:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah is suing TikTok, accusing the social media company of contributing harm to the mental health of youth.

In a lawsuit filed in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court and obtained by FOX 13 News ahead of an official announcement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office alleged "TikTok is lying to them about the safety of its app and exploiting them into checking and watching the app compulsively, no matter the terrible effects it has on their mental health, their physical development, their family, and their social life"

At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Governor Spencer Cox said the lawsuit is designed to hold TikTok accountable for misrepresentations the app made about the safety of its platform to children as well as misrepresentations about its corporate relationship to the Chinese company ByteDance.

"We will no longer tolerate TikTok misleading parents that its app is safe for children," Gov. Cox said. "Social media companies must be held responsible for the harms they are causing. The experts — from the U.S. Surgeon General and behavioral science researchers to parents and teens — all agree that social media is affecting our children's mental health and it’s time to intervene."

It's a consumer protection lawsuit. Pressed about what the state believes the company did that was specifically illegal, Reyes said it "deception."

"It's promising parents that they’re taking measures to protect our kids and not following up on those measures. In fact, doing to the opposite," he said.

TikTok did not immediately have a comment on the lawsuit when FOX 13 News contacted an attorney representing the social media platform.

The state is currently fighting with TikTok in court, asking a judge to hold the company in contempt for not sharing information with Utah Department of Commerce investigators. A hearing on that is scheduled for next week.

"They are still uncooperative and that’s why we’re going to be in court with them next week," Utah Department of Commerce Executive Director Margaret Woolley Busse told FOX 13 News.

In its own court filings, TikTok has insisted it is cooperating with investigators.

In recent years, Governor Spencer Cox has gotten increasingly aggressive against social media platforms, accusing them of contributing to mental health issues and other problems facing teens. The legislature has passed bills cracking down on youth access to social media and restricting the platforms' owners from targeting children in advertising and algorithms.

Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who sponsored some of that legislation, said he was glad to see the lawsuit filed. He also hinted that more bills on youth access to social media could be in the works.

"We've got some good legislation in place today and there could be some modifications to make sure we have the upper hand as this moves forward in litigation," he told FOX 13 News.

The state is seeking to force TikTok and other social media apps to change their algorithms and targeted advertising methods. It is also seeking financial damages. Gov. Cox likened the litigation to those against tobacco or opioids.

"The tobacco companies knew their products were harming people and they hid that research. The opioid companies knew their products were harmful and they hid that research or pretended they weren't," he said. "The social media companies know that their products are addictive and causing harm and we have links from some of them where they knew this and they’ve tried to hide the research."

Read the lawsuit here: