Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is asking a Tennessee judge to order TikTok to release internal communications as part of a nationwide investigation into the popular video platform and its possible harmful effects on young people and their mental health.
During a news conference Monday, Weiser, who is helping lead the investigation alongside Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, said TikTok is not sharing internal messaging that could reveal whether its employees are aware of the harmful effects the social media platform is having on young people.
Reviewing messages sent through an internal platform, where employees discuss and analyze issues with their product, will help determine whether TikTok broke any laws in promoting its platform to young people, Weiser said.
State attorneys general from 46 states have “good reason to believe that TikTok’s unfair and deceptive conduct has fueled an ongoing crisis in the mental health crisis of children and teens,” according to court documents filed Monday. Some documents provided by TikTok reinforce the states’ concern that TikTok “is well aware of the harm it is causing to our youth,” the plaintiffs said, but the documents were not included in the filing due to confidentiality agreements.
Heavy use of social media is driving the youth mental health crisis, the states argued, and addictive features, like “infinite scrolling,” on the app heighten the risk of habitual use that could affect how young people’s brains mature.
“We want to make sure social media platforms are operating as they should. We need the information from these companies to do that,” Weiser said.
Since the start of the investigation, TikTok continues to allow its employees to send auto-deleting messages to each other and have provided messages to the states in a format that is “difficult to use and navigate,” the attorney general’s office said.
Government officials and child-safety advocates have said that TikTok’s algorithms that push video content to its users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young views.
The social media platform, which has an estimated 1 billion monthly users, is especially popular with teens and younger children.
The investigation coincides with several security concerns with the app. The U.S. government has mandated that all federal employees delete TikTok from their work phones, citing privacy concerns, and Sen. Michael Bennet has urged Apple and Google to ban the platform from their app stores.
A spokesperson for TikTok did not reply to a request for comment.
Weiser said his office is committed to holding any company accountable in harming its consumers, particularly young people.
“We know young people are suffering. A part of that is social media,” Weiser said. “Too many algorithms on too many platforms are pushing people down dangerous dark holes.”