By Andrew DeMillo
The state of Arkansas sued TikTok and Facebook parent Meta on Tuesday, claiming the social media companies were misleading consumers about the safety of children on their platforms and protections of users' private data.
The state filed two lawsuits against TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance and a third lawsuit against Meta, which also owns Instagram, accusing the companies of violating the state's deceptive trade practices act.
“TikTok is a wolf in sheep's clothing,” one of the lawsuits, filed in state court, said. “As long as TikTok is permitted to deceive and mislead Arkansas consumers about the risks to their data, those consumers and their privacy are easy prey.”
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin, both Republicans, announced the lawsuit as TikTok faces growing questions about the safety of its users' data. Both the FBI and officials at the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data with China's authoritarian government.
One of Sanders' first moves after she was sworn in as Arkansas' governor in January was to sign an executive order banning TikTok from state devices.
One of the lawsuits claims that TikTok isn't taking proper steps to protect minors who use the platform from inappropriate content, including sexual content and material depicting drug or alcohol use. TikTok did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Tuesday.
“We have watched over the past decade as one social media company after another has exploited our kids for profit and escaped government oversight,” Sanders said in a statement released by her office. "My administration will not tolerate that failed status quo.”
The lawsuit against Meta accuses the company of manipulating Facebook to maximize the amount of time that young people spend on the platform, which it says has helped fuel mental health problems among the state's youth.
Meta on Tuesday outlined steps it has taken to protect teens on its platforms, including age- verification technology and technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-injury or eating disorders.
“These are complex issues, but we will continue working with parents, experts and regulators such as the state attorneys general to develop new tools, features and policies that meet the needs of teens and their families,” Antigone Davis, Meta's head of safety, said in a statement.
Indiana last year filed a similar lawsuit against TikTok, claiming the video-sharing platform misleads its users, particularly children, about the level of inappropriate content and security of consumer information. Seattle's public school district in January also sued the tech giants behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, seeking to hold them accountable for the mental health crisis among youth.
Sanders is also backing a bill advancing in the Arkansas Legislature that would require parental permission for anyone under 18 to use a social media site. The proposal, which a Senate panel endorsed on Tuesday, would require social media sites to verify a user's age.
Utah last week became the first state to enact such a requirement, though experts have questioned how such rules can be enforced and whether they could create unintended consequences.