By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP/CNN) — A nationwide group of state attorneys general have launched an investigation into TikTok and it’s possible harmful impact on the mental health of young users, widening government scrutiny of the wildly popular video platform.

The probe zeroes in on the social media platform’s engagement techniques to determine whether any of its practices may run afoul of state consumer protection laws, according to announcements by the states.

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Connecticut Attorney General William Tong cited “reckless viral challenges” on TikTok as a major source of concern. He added that while TikTok has made some moves to limit harms to children, “our investigation will look at what TikTok knew about the risks to our children, and precisely what they have been doing to keep our kids online.”

The list of participating states includes California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

U.S. lawmakers and federal regulators have criticized TikTok, citing practices and computer-driven promotion of content they say can endanger the physical and mental health of young users. The platform has an estimated 1 billion monthly users and is especially popular with teens and younger children.

Government officials and child-safety advocates maintain that TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers.

TikTok said that it limits its features by age, provides tools and resources to parents, and designs its policies with the well-being of young people in mind.

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“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community,” TikTok said, “and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

Early last year, after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its practices affect children and teenagers, the platform tightened its privacy practices for users under 18.

However, critics of TikTok have pointed, for example, to incidents around the country that came to light last fall in which students vandalized school bathrooms and other equipment, and stole supplies — apparently in response to a viral TikTok challenge called “devious licks.” Also last fall, The Wall Street Journal reported that teenage girls had been seeking medical care for the sudden onset of tics, such as jerky motions and verbal outbursts; doctors said TikTok videos on Tourette syndrome could be a factor.

News of the probe comes a day after President Joe Biden called for greater accountability of tech platforms “for the national experiment they are conducting on our children for profit.” In his State of the Union address, Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to toughen regulations for social media. In a fact sheet, the White House said Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget would propose investing $5 million into research on social media’s impact on mental health.

Late last year a similar coalition of state attorneys general began an investigation into the Instagram photo-sharing platform, owned by Facebook parent Meta Platforms, and its effects on young people. The action came after former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen revealed internal company research showing apparent harm to some teen users of Instagram.

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(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.) Team