Chicago – Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a bipartisan coalition of 46 attorneys general, filed an amicus brief on Monday asking a court to order social media company TikTok, Inc. to fully comply with an ongoing national investigation into whether the company violated consumer protection laws.
Raoul and the coalition are seeking to review internal TikTok communications as part of their investigation to determine whether the company engaged in deceptive, unfair and unconscionable conduct that harmed the mental health of TikTok users, particularly children and teens. Despite the request for these communications falling squarely within the investigative authority of the attorneys general, the amicus brief asserts that TikTok repeatedly and knowingly failed to preserve relevant information and failed to provide internal communications in a useful format.
“The data is clear – heavy social media usage by young users has negative impacts on their mental health, leading to low self-esteem and distorted body image,” Raoul said. “Our investigation into how decisions made at TikTok to increase youth user engagement and the correlated effects of these decisions on the mental health of young users will be successful only if TikTok fully cooperates and works with our coalition.”
In their amicus brief, Raoul and the coalition support the state of Tennessee’s argument that TikTok has flouted its duty to preserve internal employee communications on an instant messaging service called Lark. The brief also argues TikTok has failed to provide requested communications in a useful format and has continued to allow employees to send auto-deleting messages over the Lark platform after the start of the coalition’s investigation.
Raoul and the coalition argue that because the use of social media platforms like TikTok has a significant role in the ongoing youth mental health crisis, it is critical that TikTok produce all relevant internal corporate communications to allow the coalition to understand whether the company broke any laws.
There is a wealth of peer-reviewed research showing social media platforms, especially image- and video-based platforms like TikTok, are playing a substantial role in harming youth mental health. For example, in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings demonstrating a startling increase in challenges to youth mental health, youth experiences of violence and suicidal thoughts and behaviors among teenagers, especially teenage girls. This includes a finding that nearly one-third of teen girls seriously considered suicide in 2021, a nearly 60% increase from a decade prior. Other peer-reviewed research shows increased teen social media use is a significant driver of this crisis.
The investigation is part of Attorney General Raoul’s ongoing efforts to protect children online and address the negative impacts social media platforms have on young Illinois residents. In May 2021, as part of a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general, Raoul urged Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under 13. In November 2021, Raoul and attorneys general from across the country announced their investigation into Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook, for providing and promoting its social media platform Instagram to kids.
Joining Raoul in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.