Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul joined at least 46 other states Monday requesting a state court order for TikTok to comply with an investigation into its communication practices amid growing privacy and health concerns.
The multistate investigation is seeking internal communications records to evaluate whether TikTok knowingly engaged in “deceptive, unfair and unconscionable” actions that negatively impacted youth users’ mental health, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Kaul’s amicus brief to a state court investigating the matter alleges TikTok failed to properly preserve internal communications and allows employees to communicate with each other using auto-deleting messages.
“Parents in Wisconsin deserve to know what leadership at TikTok knew about the dangers of their product,” Kaul said. “TikTok must provide the relevant information requested in connection with this investigation.”
The DOJ claimed the app’s personalized algorithm has contributed to rising rates of hopelessness and self-harm among teens in Monday’s press release, citing a Centers for Disease Control report from February that found suicidal thoughts among teen girls jumped 60% from 2011 to 2021.
In response to concerns, TikTok announced new digital health features for families and teens earlier this month. Every account belonging to a user below age 18 will be automatically set to a 60-minute daily screen time limit, and new screen time control features will be added to the app’s “Family Pairing” tool in the coming weeks.
“Every teen is different, and so is every family,” said Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s head of trust and safety. “We want our community to feel in control of their TikTok experience.”
Multiple Wisconsin lawmakers have expressed health and security concerns regarding TikTok in recent months, including U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, who previously called the app “digital fentanyl” that collects Americans’ data and censors their news.
Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order in January banning TikTok on state-owned devices.
“In the digital age, defending our state’s technology and cybersecurity infrastructure and protecting digital privacy have to be a top priority for us as a state,” Evers said. “This order ensures we will continue to be vigilant in monitoring these technologies while trusting the advice of these experts on evolving cybersecurity issues facing our state.”
The University of Wisconsin System announced a similar ban shortly after, according to the Associated Press.
TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are also the targets of bipartisan federal legislation introduced Tuesday that would give the U.S. Secretary of Commerce expanded power to ban TikTok and other foreign-owned technologies that pose an “undue or unacceptable risk” to national security.
The White House announced Tuesday it would work with Congress on the bill.
“This is about making sure that we do the right thing for the American people,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
TikTok called the measure “a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide” in a statement Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.