Utah Sues TikTok Over Social-Media Addiction

Utah's attorney general claims in a new lawsuit that TikTok violates a state consumer protection law by both causing minors to become addicted to the app, and misrepresenting its content policies.

“TikTok uses a dopamine-inducing algorithm that spoon-feeds users a steady diet of highly personalized short-form videos, making it difficult for children to unplug, which TikTok amplifies with a series of manipulative features designed to keep users on the app,” Attorney General Sean Reyes alleges in a 60-page complaint brought Tuesday in Salt Lake City District Court.

“Unfortunately, the result is that TikTok’s youngest, most vulnerable users become trapped, spending excessive, unhealthy amounts of time on the app, which TikTok knows is contributing to a mental health crisis among teens in Utah,” the complaint continues.

Significant passages of the complaint are blacked out, but the publicly available allegations appear similar to claims in a separate class-action lawsuit by teens against large social platforms (including Meta, TikTok, Snap and YouTube), as well as claims brought against TikTok by state authorities in Arkansas and Indiana.

Broadly, all of the addiction-related lawsuits allege that social media platforms design their services to increase teens' engagement, and then serve them with harmful content.

The Utah attorney general's suit against TikTok includes allegations that its algorithms serve minors with material about “weight loss, dieting, self-harm, and worse.”

The complaint alleges TikTok violated Utah's consumer protection law in several ways, including by engaging in an “unconsionable act” in connection with a transaction.

According to the complaint, the “transaction” is the use of TikTok itself, and the “unconscionable act” is causing teens to become addicted.

The complaint also alleges TikTok ran afoul of the state's consumer protection law by misrepresenting that it removes harmful content.

A TikTok spokesperson says the company "has industry-leading safeguards for young people, including an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18 and parental controls for teen accounts."

The spokesperson adds, "We will continue to work to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges."

Utah's new lawsuit adds to TikTok's growing legal problems. Numerous states have prohibited use of the app on government-owned devices or networks, and Montana has attempted to completely ban the app in the state.

TikTok and several users have challenged the Montana ban in court, and a federal judge in Missoula is expected to hear arguments in the matter on Thursday.

TikTok, along with Meta and others, separately argues in the class-action brought by teens that free speech principles as well as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which generally protects web companies from liability over speech posted by users -- prevent that case from proceeding. The companies say the teens' claims essentially attempt to hold the companies responsible for potentially harmful material created by other users.

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