Nebraska sues TikTok for allegedly targeting minors with 'addictive design' and 'fueling a youth mental health crisis'

Nebraska is suing social media giant TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, claiming the platform targets minors with an “addictive design” and is “fueling a youth mental health crisis.”

“TikTok has shown no respect for the mess left behind by its exploitative algorithm,” said Attorney General Mike Hilgers said in a statement.

The court casefiled Wednesday in state court, claiming the platform engages in “deceptive and unfair business practices” by claiming it is “family friendly” and “safe for young users.”

The lawsuit alleges that TikTok is not adhering to its own community guidelines, which state that the platform does not allow “content that could endanger young people.” The platform has also spent millions on ads stating that it is suitable for young people, the complaint alleges, and TikTok representatives have repeatedly stated that the company monitors for harmful content and removes content that poses a risk of harming minors or that is otherwise violate the Community Guidelines.

But the lawsuit claims the opposite is true and that teens and children are being shown inappropriate content based on the platform's algorithm and “addictive design.”

As part of the investigation, Nebraska created TikTok accounts for fictitious minor users registered as 13, 15 and 17 years old, the lawsuit said. Within minutes, the lawsuit alleges, the teen users were guided by TikTok's algorithm to inappropriate content, including videos described in graphic detail in the lawsuit as simulating sexual acts and encouraging eating disorders.

Much of the content pushed to minors is encouraged by the “For You” feed, the lawsuit alleges, which shows users the allegedly inappropriate content without having to search for similar videos. Instead, the video simply appears uninvited in minors' feeds, the lawsuit alleges.

Hilgers said children are “being exposed to inappropriate content, ranging from videos that encourage suicidal thoughts and fuel depression, cause body image issues and encourage eating disorders to videos that encourage drug use and sexual content that are completely inappropriate for young children.”

These interactions have “fueled a youth mental health crisis in Nebraska,” the lawsuit says.

TikTok denies the accusations.

“TikTok has industry-leading safety measures to support teen well-being, including age-appropriate features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for those under 18, and more. We will continue to work to address these industry-wide issues,” a company spokesperson told CBS News in a statement.

Nebraska's lawsuit comes as TikTok fights the US government on recent legislation requiring the platform to cut ties with its China-based owner within a year or be effectively banned from the United States.

TikTok says this in a lawsuit filed earlier this month that banning the popular social media platform would violate its users' First Amendment rights. Eight TikToker users – with millions of followers between them – has filed a similar complaint against the federal government last week.

More than thirty states and the federal government have banned the app on state or government-issued devices. Montana became the first state only to ban the app last May, a few months later a federal judge overturned the rulingin part because the ban “infringes on the constitutional rights of users and businesses.”

—Melissa Quinn and C. Mandler contributed reporting.

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