Iowa AG Moves to Sue TikTok for Misleading Parents About the Extent of Inappropriate Content

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The attorney general of Iowa initiated a lawsuit against TikTok on Jan. 17, with the social media platform standing accused of misleading parents about the extent of inappropriate content shown on the app.

According to the lawsuit filed in a state court in Polk County, Iowa, TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, have repeatedly lied about the prevalence of harmful content aimed at children. This includes content containing drug and alcohol use, as well as profanity, nudity, and sexual content.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird stated in the suit that TikTok has continually and deliberately misled parents on the issue.

“TikTok has kept parents in the dark. It’s time we shine a light on TikTok for exposing young children to graphic materials such as sexual content, self-harm, illegal drug use, and worse,” said Ms. Bird.

Iowa is now seeking to impose financial penalties associated with its allegations of consumer fraud. In addition to this, the order seeks to ban the ByteDance-owned TikTok app from engaging in activities that endorse inappropriate, deceptive, and unfair conduct.

According to TikTok, safeguards are in place to protect young people that are based on industry guidelines. These include parental controls and time limits for users under 18.

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“We are committed to tackling industry wide challenges and will continue to prioritize community safety,” the company stated.

TikTok has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over its content, as well as issues pertaining to online security, given its close affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The most recent lawsuit by a U.S. state comes as the company, along with other social media platforms, is facing increased pressure globally from regulators to shield minors from harmful content.

Several U.S. states, including Arkansas and Utah, have filed similar lawsuits to Iowa’s. A recent lawsuit filed by Indiana’s attorney general was dismissed by a judge, while still other states are investigating the app.

However, a recent move to block the platform in Montana initiated by a U.S. judge in November was appealed earlier this month, just as the ban was set to take effect.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy issued a preliminary injunction to block the ban on Nov. 30, on the basis that it would “violate the Constitution in more ways than one” and “overstep state power.”

Meanwhile, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will join other social media CEOs in testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee regarding online child sexual exploitation on Jan. 31.

This is not the most serious of TikTok’s woes, however. A proposal for a complete U.S. ban on the social media giant has received bipartisan support, according to a recent publication by Tech Target.

The issue has also given rise to wider concerns and raised bigger questions about online security and data access laws.

TikTok was subject to a March 2023 investigation by the FBI and Justice Department, which delved further into allegations of espionage on American journalists.

Shou Zi Chew subsequently defended the platform before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he addressed the company’s consumer privacy and data security policies.

He also spoke of the platform’s impact on mental health, in addition to security concerns relating to parent company ByteDance’s affiliation with the CCP.

During the hearing, Committee Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) commented on the existing laws the CCP has implemented in relation to the activities of Chinese companies abroad.

“Today, the CCP’s laws require Chinese companies like ByteDance to spy on their behalf,” she stated.

TikTok’s effect on American youth has been a sensitive subject for a number of years. Previous attempts by the Trump administration in 2020 to ban the app were unsuccessful, however.

TikTok has repeatedly admitted that it shares user data from the United States with China’s communist regime. The company boasts around 1 billion users worldwide, of which roughly 150 million are in the United States.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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