A coalition of 15 Republican state attorneys general sent letters to executives at Apple and Google on Tuesday demanding the tech companies correct their age ratings for the Beijing-based video app TikTok.
The app, which has been likened to “digital fentanyl” by congressional lawmakers for its addictive qualities as it afflicts users with harmful content, is currently advertised to users 12 and up on the Apple App Store and 13 and up on the Google Play Store. The attorneys general demand that both tech companies change their ratings to 17-plus for “mature” audiences.
“Parents depend on the accuracy of age ratings,” the chief state law enforcement officers wrote. “When parents are deceived into letting their kids download TikTok, there are real consequences.”
Exposure to drug, alcohol, and tobacco content on social media makes kids more likely to use or experiment with those illicit substances in real life. And exposure to sexual content on TikTok can lead to pornography addiction and even the sexual exploitation of kids by online predators.
The coalition, led by GOP Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, threatened legal action if the companies don’t correct the problem.
According to a report from Forbes Magazine in early December, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used TikTok to influence voters in the November midterms and push divisive social messaging on the platform owned by a state-sponsored company. Republican governors in Alabama and Utah banned the app on state devices this week, contributing to at least half a dozen that have done so since the release of the Forbes report. On Tuesday, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher proposed bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok’s operations in the United States altogether.
“Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up the New York Times, Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War,” said Gallagher, who will lead a Select Committee on China in the next Congress. “No country with even a passing interest in its own security would allow this to happen, which is why it’s time to ban TikTok and any other CCP-controlled app before it’s too late.”
Knudsen called TikTok a “Chinese Trojan horse feeding harmful and adult content to children” in a Tuesday statement. “It exposes kids to harmful content that promotes drugs and alcohol use, glorifies eating disorders, and encourages illegal and dangerous ‘challenges,’ whether they are searching for it or not. Drug cartels have even used it to recruit teenagers to join them,” Knudsen said.
In 2020, The New York Times dubbed the narco-marketing that’s rampant on the platform “Cartel TikTok.”
“Parents are the first line of defense,” Knudsen added Tuesday, “but their job is being made more difficult by ratings that misrepresent the true content found on the platform. It’s past time for Apple and Google to do their part in helping parents keep their kids safe online and increase their TikTok ratings.”
A summer report from the conservative Heritage Foundation connected social media use, including TikTok, to teen eating disorders and transgenderism, where impressionable teens enter adulthood convinced they were born in the wrong body.