The unfortunate life cycle for virtually every social media platform developed today is to move from obscurity to popularity to pariah after they’re exposed as mass manipulation projects.
Often it’s because studies highlight the apps’ negative impacts on users’ mental health. Or it’s because many of them vacuum up our data to share with other companies who may use it to target us (read: nudge us to purchase or support things) with ads tailored to our wants.
TikTok, the popular video-focused social media app, reportedly shares users’ data more than any other social media app. What’s more, the app has faced backlash in recent months for spreading hoaxes and promoting dangerous challenges. It seems clear that TikTok is about to move from its honeymoon phase into a world of fairly intense scrutiny.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced its participation in a nationwide investigation into TikTok’s impact on young Americans. Specifically, the probe will examine whether TikTok is “designing, operating, and promoting its social media platform to children, teens, and young adults in a manner that causes or exacerbates physical and mental health harms,” according to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the investigation “will allow us to get much-needed answers and determine if TikTok is violating the law in promoting its platform to young Californians.”
The investigation will be conducted by Healey and Bonta as well as attorneys general in Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.
News of the national probe came after President Joe Biden used part of his State of the Union address Tuesday to urge officials to “strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”
In making his point, Biden shouted out Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who testified before Congress last year. She alleged that the platform manipulates users, including children, with its news feed. Haugen, who was one of first lady Jill Biden’s guests that night, showed that Americans “must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” the president said.
Today, social media platforms are facing more widespread criticism than ever. The coordinated disinformation campaign Russia waged against the U.S. during the 2016 election made a lot of people hip to sinister ways social media can be used to dupe us. And in the last year, the spotlight has shined most intensely on Facebook, which ReidOut Blog followers will know has faced a wave of criticism related to misinformation and hateful content on the site.
But just like Facebook, so many social media sites mine users’ information to feed them content. TikTok — as a relative newcomer — has avoided its fair share of criticism for how it does that. Biden’s remarks and the attorneys general investigation suggest that time is coming to an end.