WASHINGTON, DC – Today, The Tech Oversight Project issued the following statement in response to written testimony from TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This week the Tech Oversight Project published a public memo to lawmakers outlining how TikTok, Google, Apple, Meta, and Amazon all need to be held accountable for failing to protect children online, endangering our national security, and failing to protect our data. The memo can be found here.
“Testimony from TikTok’s CEO proves they are fundamentally unserious about protecting children and outright lying to parents and Congress. Unsealed court documents show they knew minors would put themselves in danger through social media challenges, and details have come to light that ByteDance offers a safer experience for children in China with Douyin than TikTok provides American children,” said Kyle Morse, Deputy Executive Director of the Tech Oversight Project. “Instead of embracing legislation that would keep kids safe, TikTok is joining a litany of Big Tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in campaigning against protections. We need to stop pretending that companies that profit from developing products to keep children addicted to their screens so that they can sell ads and harvest data will ever have our best interests at heart.”
- Recently unsealed documents prove that TikTok parent ByteDance knew young people are more susceptible to being lured into trying dangerous stunts they view on the platform — known as viral challenges — because their ability to weigh risk isn’t fully formed, which has led to death and suicide.
- Researchers found that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance designed its Chinese equivalent app with design features similar to TikTok that “activate the reward centers of the brain” and “showed that areas involved in addiction were highly activated in those who watched personalized videos.”
- Leaked internal documents show that TikTok’s “ultimate goal” is adding daily active users by optimizing users’ “retention” and “time spent” metrics – proving that their platform’s business model is predicated on getting users addicted.
- Reporting from the Wall Street Journal found that “as a user’s stream becomes more niche, they’re more likely to encounter harmful content that is less vetted by moderators.”
- A non-profit study found that TikTok may surface potentially harmful content related to suicide and eating disorders within minutes of them creating an account.
- A Center for Countering Digital Hate study found that upon starting new accounts for users aged 13 years old and pausing on content related to body image or mental health led users to be served pro-aneorxia or suicide content within seconds.
- TikTok’s parent ByteDance harms U.S. children and teens by exposing them to harmful content and algorithms while protecting children in China by requiring that users under the age of 14 register with Douyin’s (TikTok’s Chinese counterpart) heavily moderated “teen mode.”
- In 2019, TikTok’s predecessor Musical.ly was fined $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission for violating U.S. child privacy law.
- Based on recent reporting and unsealed court records, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was aware that Facebook and Instagram were designed to be addictive and detrimental to young people’s mental health, particularly teen girls, but lied to Congress under oath.
- In an effort to replicate the harmful TikTok platform and algorithm, Meta recalibrated its product and algorithms to emulate its platforms on TikTok and expand its base of young users despite knowing its products were already detrimental to youth mental health.
- Instagram had planned to roll out an Instagram for Kids platform that was only shelved due to outcry from parents and social media watchdog groups.
- Despite leaked internal documents laying out the problem that “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” and adding that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” Meta’s senior leadership have done nothing to alter their platform or algorithm.
- In an effort to boost screen time on the platform, YouTube redesigned their algorithm to maximize views and increase profits from advertisers, which computer scientists criticized calling it an “addictive engine.”
- After launching YouTube Kids, consumer advocates filed a complaint with the FTC noting that children were being served sexual content, advertising for alcohol, and promotion of unsafe behaviors.
- Mental health experts warned that YouTube is a growing source of anxiety and inappropriate sexual behavior among kids under the age of 13.
- Google and Youtube violated children’s privacy and settled a case for a record $170 million settlement brought by the FTC and New York Attorney General.
- In an effort to replicate the harmful TikTok platform and algorithm, YouTube launched YouTube Shorts as a TikTok clone.
- A 2017 study found that increased iPhone and smart phone usage led to increases in anxiety and depression among children and teens.
- Studies found that increased iPhone usage was linked to a doubling in the suicide rate among teenage girls.
- That same study “showed that those who spent more than five hours per day on electronic devices had almost twice the suicidal tendencies of those spent an hour or less per day.”
- The New York Times found that Apple was cracking down on apps that fight iPhone addiction.
- A recent report shows that child predators are systematically using Amazon’s Twitch to track and watch children.
- A recent study from National Center on Sexual Exploitation found that Amazon’s Twitch was rife with sexual harassment, predatory grooming, child sexual abuse.
- Prominent Twitch users campaigned to have Amazon’s Twitch remove gambling from their platform because it was leading to gambling addictions.
- NBC News found that Amazon’s Wickr, an encrypted chat app, has “become a go-to destination for people to exchange images of child sexual abuse.”
- Amazon was under investigation by the FTC, which alleged that the voice-activated device collects and stores the transcripts of conversations the children have with it, along with information on what content the young users engage with on the device.