Arkansas has filed a lawsuit against social media giants TikTok and Meta, claiming the companies misrepresented how safe their platforms are for children.
The two lawsuits were filed against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance while a third lawsuit has been filed against Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The Arkansas government contends the companies have violated the state’s deceptive trade practices act.
“We have to hold Big Tech companies accountable for pushing addictive platforms on our kids and exposing them to a world of inappropriate, damaging content,” said Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a March 28 statement. “These actions are a long time coming. We have watched over the past decade as one social media company after another has exploited our kids for profit and escaped government oversight.”
“My administration will not tolerate that failed status quo,” said Sanders.
Meta is accused of manipulating Facebook to entice younger users to spend increasing amounts of time on the platform – which increased mental health issues among minors – by designing progressively addictive algorithms.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said he wants to hold Meta “accountable for their disregard of our children’s welfare.”
“Meta has publicly misled consumers about the addictive nature of their products,” said Griffin. “They intentionally employ algorithms that are addictive to adolescents and are rewiring how our children think, feel and behave. Instead of communicating the nature of these algorithms to the public, they actively conceal the nature of their products in pursuit of profits and growth.”
Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis was admonished by members of the Senate in 2021 for withholding internal information about the negative impact its platform had on young people while testifying before the consumer protection subcommittee.
“It has hidden its own research on addiction and the toxic effects of its products,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, per The New York Times. “It has attempted to deceive the public and us in Congress about what it knows, and it has weaponized childhood vulnerabilities against children themselves. It’s chosen growth over children’s mental health and well-being, greed over preventing the suffering of children.”
Griffin said his state was taking action against TikTok and Meta for allegedly “misleading the public about the availability of adult content to teenage users.”
“Specifically, they market their app as appropriate for teenage users while offering an abundance of posts that contain mature themes, nudity and drugs, all of which is readily available to minors,” he said.
The second lawsuit brought against TikTok and ByteDance claims the company and platform falsely claimed that user data was not accessible by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Protecting Arkansas’s youth is my highest calling, and I look forward to the fight,” said Griffin.
In 2018, a Pew Research poll found 45% of 13- to 17-year-olds were online almost constantly. The Mayo Clinic warned in February of 2022 that social media can “negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.”