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Nebraska Sues TikTok Over Alleged Harm To Minors

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Nebraska sued TikTok, alleging the platform was designed to be addictive and harmful to children.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said TikTok designed its algorithm to feed users, many of them children, a stream of videos aimed at holding their attention. 

Nebraska's complaint, filed in state court, alleged that the algorithm cultivates compulsive behavior “like a sophisticated gambling machine.” 

It also alleged deceptive trade practices.

The platform’s addictive nature, the complaint said, has contributed to an increase in mental health problems in Nebraska children, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. 

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers said: “For TikTok and companies like them, they make lots of money on being able to attract what they call their ‘golden audience’—young people under the age of 17—and get them addicted on their platform.”

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TikTok said it has safeguards for teens.

This includes age-restricted features, parental controls, and an automatic 60-minute daily time limit for people under 18.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “We will continue working to address these industry-wide concerns.”

Social media companies have faced increasing scrutiny from lawmakers over how they keep children safe on platforms. 

Mental health providers have criticized TikTok for failing to keep videos of sex and drug use away from children. 

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is also under pressure in the European Union to protect minors and to manage the risks of harmful content on its platform.

TikTok under increased scrutiny

Other states, including Utah, Indiana, and Iowa, have sued TikTok over its handling of content for minors. 

Montana also passed a law banning the app in the state, citing concerns the Chinese government could force TikTok to spy on US users. 

A state judge blocked the law from going into effect, saying it likely violates the First Amendment. 

TikTok’s future in the US is still unclear after President Biden signed a law requiring the sale or ban of the popular app by mid-January. 

TikTok has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality. 

ByteDance has said it can’t and won’t sell its US operations by the deadline.

Suitors have already expressed interest in acquiring the platform in the US.

These include billionaire Frank McCourt, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary.

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In its lawsuit, Nebraska alleges TikTok was created to target US children and teens. 

It says TikTok has refused to address the risks and harms posed to children who are vulnerable to the platform’s addictive design. 

Nebraska’s complaint cited an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, published in 2021.

It found the platform was flooding teen users with videos of rapid weight loss competitions and ways to purge food that health professionals said contributed to a wave of eating disorder cases. 

At the time, TikTok said it invested in removing content that violates its rules and would continue to do so. 

Still, TikTok knows its platform is unsuitable for children and teenagers, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said.

The complaint said: “Defendants know this because users, parents, educators, investigative journalists, academics, and outside consultants have all repeatedly told them so.”

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