Kobach sues TikTok for threat to kids

TOPEKA – Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced his office has filed a lawsuit today in Shawnee County District Court against social media company TikTok for misrepresenting its age-appropriateness in app stores, deceiving parents about the effectiveness of its parental tools, and creating and aggressively promoting an addictive app the that erodes the mental health of Kansas children.

“TikTok deceived parents by saying that the app was safe and age appropriate. In reality, the app has promoted filth, profanity, sexual content, and alcohol and drugs to Kansas kids,” Kobach said in a press release on the filing. “Even worse, it has used coercive algorithms that spike dopamine, keep kids on the app as long as possible, and facilitate downward mental health spirals. Kansas parents deserve the truth about the harm the app causes to young users, and Kansas kids should be protected.”

Mariah Caudillo works for the Mar Monte, California, affiliate of the pro choice organization Planned Parenthood and provides sex education to over 220,000 people every year in central California and parts of Nevada. Her TikTok channel includes various sexual content and demonstrations of sex toys. She’s also insisted that ‘pleasure-based sex education can be tailored to meet the need of the youth,’ having said that in another video that age shouldn’t necessarily be the determining factor on when to start having sex./UK Guardian photo

The lawsuit alleges that TikTok knew its app was not safe for kids when it released the app in 2017.  Additionally, the company misleads parents by marketing its app as age appropriate for children 12 and older. Despite its assertions, TikTok hawks significant amounts of profanity and crude humor, sexual content and nudity, alcohol, tobacco and drug usage, and mature and suggestive themes.

“Parents and caregivers believe their children are protected from images of intense sexual content, illicit drug use, and videos encouraging vaping and tobacco use, because TikTok deceives parents into believing the company hides this content from children. In reality, this company created an app intentionally to hook Kansas children onto their salacious, dangerous, and damaging content at the price of those children’s mental health. This damage will echo far into the future of our state, and TikTok must answer for its actions,” said Deputy Attorney General Fran Oleen.

According to the petition, TikTok offers “restricted mode” and “family pairing” tools to keep Kansas children safe, but the tools are ineffective. The suit also alleges that TikTok negatively impacts the mental health of Kansas youth.

“Kids in Kansas have been bombarded with problematic TikTok videos while lost in the addictive grip of TikTok’s auto scroll that affects not only their attention spans, but their mental health. Youth in Kansas frequently find themselves in an infinite hole of TikTok videos that tell them they are not good enough or attractive enough. These videos are often paired with advice on how to evade parents’ detection of eating disorders,” said Assistant Attorney General Sarah Dietz. “TikTok has misrepresented itself as safe, while it purposefully addicted minors and wreaked havoc on their mental health. Even when parents and caregivers try to create a safe environment for their children by using parental controls, they are deceived by TikTok’s false representations that the parental controls are effective.”

Cormac Keenan, head of Trust & Safety at TikTok, did not immediately return the Informer’s request for comment on the Kansas lawsuit.

The Office of the Kansas Attorney General is alleging multiple violations of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Specifically, the state seeks civil penalties of $10,000 per violation and enhanced civil penalties of $20,000 for deceptive and unconscionable acts against protected consumers.

Oleen and Dietz of the Office of the Kansas Attorney General, along with Special Assistant Attorneys General David Thompson, Brian Barnes, Megan Wold, and Athie Livas of Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, represent the state of Kansas in the suit.

Read the petition here.

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.

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