The state of Arkansas sued TikTok and its parent company ByteDance as well as Facebook-parent Meta, claiming that the products were harmful to their users. This is the latest attempt by officials to sue social media companies over concerns about mental health and privacy.
The three lawsuits allege that the companies violated Arkansas' Deceptive Trade Practices Act and are seeking millions, if they don't billions of dollars in fines. These suits were filed at Arkansas state court.
These complaints are made as Washington continues to press TikTok over its links with China, and states are becoming more aggressive about suing tech companies in general for mental health issues. School districts and county officials from California, Florida New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington State, and Washington have filed lawsuits against multiple social media platforms for addiction claims.
The lawsuit against Meta focuses on its impact on young users' mental well-being. It alleges that Meta's implementation like buttons, photo tags, and an endless news feed are addictive, and 'intended for users' brains to be manipulated by the release of dopamine.
Antigone Davis said in a statement that Meta's global director of safety has invested in technology to find and remove content related to self-harm, eating disorders, or suicide before it is reported to the company.
Davis stated in the statement that he wanted to assure parents that they were at the forefront of our efforts to ensure teens have a safe and supportive experience online. These are complex issues. We will continue to work with parents, regulators, and experts, such as state attorneys general, to develop new features, tools, and policies that meet teens' and their families' needs.
The two remaining suits, which both name ByteDance as defendants and TikTok, focus on TikTok’s alleged deficiencies in content moderation, and reiterate claims that TikTok poses a threat to US national safety.
First, the suit claims that TikTok misled its users by labeling their app as suitable only for teens in app stores due to the "abundant" presence of content containing profanity and substance abuse. The suit also alleges that TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin does not provide such content within China.
The complaint stated that 'TikTok poses risks to young teens which TikTok parent company finds inappropriate for Chinese users of the same age'. "Yet TikTok promotes mature and salacious content to all U.S. teens and older."
In the second lawsuit against ByteDance, TikTok and other companies, the suit accuses the companies of making misleading statements regarding the reach of Chinese officials and their purported ability to access TikTok users data. TikTok migrated US data from its servers to those operated by American tech giant Oracle, and established organizational controls to prevent unauthorized access. The suit claims that this does not necessarily mean the data will be protected.
The complaint stated that 'Neither TikTok’s data storage practices nor its data security policies negate the application of Chinese law to those data, to individuals and entities that are subject to Chinese laws and have access, or to the risk that the Chinese Government or Communist Party may gain access.
In the suit, TikTok is also accused of misrepresenting its privacy and security policies by omitting potential risks of Chinese Government access in its privacy policies as well as its statements made to app store operators.
TikTok or ByteDance did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the lawsuits reflect a "failed status quo."
Sanders stated that 'we have to hold Big Tech Companies accountable for pushing addictive platform on our children and exposing them a world with inappropriate, damaging contents'. These actions have been a long time in coming. Over the last decade, we have watched as social media companies exploited children for profit while escaping government oversight.