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Nebraska sues TikTok, claiming harm to minors

Nebraska's attorney general accused the social media giant of deliberately directing content that glorifies sex, drugs, eating disorders and suicide ideation to young users.

LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) — The state of Nebraska sued social media platform TikTok Wednesday, claiming it describes itself as a "family friendly," "safe" and "appropriate for kids and teens" even as it exposes the state's youth to addictive, suicide-related, harmful content that contributes to a mental health crisis.

"It tells people that it is a family-friendly platform. It tells people that it is appropriate for people over the age of 12. It tells people that its restrictive mode is effective," said Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers in a press conference Wednesday morning announcing the suit. "It has all sorts of claims that it makes to the public, and none of those claims are true."

Hilgers described the suit as a "landmark if not unprecedented consumer protection case." His office filed the complaint in Lancaster County District Court, located in the state's capital city of Lincoln. Defendants included the social media giant and six affiliated companies, including ByteDance Ltd., TikTok's owner.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to the suit, saying, "TikTok has industry-leading safeguards to support teens' well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for people under 18, and more. We will continue working to address these industry-wide challenges."

Nebraska also joined 41 other states late last year in a lawsuit against Meta claiming the social media titan designed Facebook and Instagram to get young people addicted.

Nebraska's investigation into TikTok started about two years ago, Hilgers said. Investigators set up fake accounts, representing youth of various ages. What they found was "scandalous, alarming and any parent in the state of Nebraska should be outraged," the attorney general told reporters.

Within minutes, the dummy accounts were fed content that included videos that made eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia seem appealing.

"We saw videos regarding drug use. We saw highly inappropriate sexual content directed toward 13- to 14-year-old boys and girls. We saw videos that help encourage suicidal thoughts," he said. "There is no doubt these types of videos drive depression, mental health issues, and are harming Nebraska youth."

As part of the investigation, investigators obtained documents that showed that the company was aware of the problem.

“They know that their controls are ineffective, that they don’t work, and that ultimately, they show by their actions that they do not care," Hilgers said. "Because at the end of the day, TikTok and companies like them, they make lots of money on being able to attract what they call their 'golden audience:' Young people under the age of 17, and get them addicted on their product.”

TikTok has come under fire in the United States due to its relationship to China-based ByteDance, which critics say raises cybersecurity concerns. President Joe Biden has signed off on a bipartisan bill requiring the platform to divest from ByteDance. In response, TikTok sued to block the bill.

But cybersecurity and broader geopolitical issues are not the focus of the Nebraska lawsuit.

"Everyone understands we are in a mental health crisis. We are particularly in a youth mental health crisis. The numbers are sobering and staggering," Hilgers told reporters. "One of the drivers, maybe the driver, that is fueling mental health concerns in our youth is social media platforms."

The state seeks a court order finding TikTok has violated state consumer and trade practices law, and a disgorgement of the money TikTok has made from Nebraskans.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

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Categories / Courts, Health, Technology

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