Montana AG Launches an Investigation into TikTok for Allegedly Serving Harmful Content to Children

Posted by Julia Haines.

In this article published by FOXBusiness and written by Marisa Schultz, it claims the growing number of controversial trends that are prevalent on social media, specifically TikTok. TikTok is a short-form, video-sharing app that allows users and creators to share content and videos as well as start trends.  However, there have been recent observations and reports that the impact that this social media platform has on its viewers is detrimental. Claims have been made that many of these trends are controversial and have raised concerns for children’s health. This investigation started with a woman in Minnesota who reported this incident that had happened earlier in the day to some news reporters: her daughter had been looking for entertainment and asked her “Alexa” (an Amazon Bluetooth device) for a challenge. The response was shocking; she was told to put a phone charger halfway in an outlet, and then touch the penny on the exposed prongs.  This is just one example of thousands of trends and challenges that have stemmed from TikTok creators, many ending in death, injury, mental illness, vandalism, and other harmful outcomes. In response, “Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen has started a comprehensive investigation into TikTok of allegedly serving harmful content to children and for publicly misrepresenting the ‘dangers’ of its social media platform” (Schultz).

Knudsen launched this investigation to specifically look into whether TikTok has violated Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act of 1973 by sending a 44-page document to TikTok headquarters.  He includes many examples of TikTok users getting dangerous content on sex, drugs, and eating disorders and some users getting killed or injured while replicating TikTok challenges. He seeks to understand the safety practices, algorithms, user guidelines, third-party data tracking, and how the company’s US entity shares data with its Chinese corporate family. If the company doesn’t respond by March 28th, that could seek a subpoena or initiate a civil lawsuit.

However, Knudsen is not the only one that embodies this concern. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also launched a civil investigation regarding its “potential facilitation of human trafficking and child privacy violations” (Schultz). It is reported that they reached out to TikTok did not respond to the email request for comment. Although TikTok’s community guidelines state that they do not allow things such as nudity, pornography, sexually explicit content, drugs, eating habits, and other “activities that perpetuate the abuse, harm, engagement, or exploitation of a minor”, this content does still get posted, viewed and shared more times than not. Additionally, due to how algorithms work, once a view video of the same content is viewed and interacted with, the young individual soon gets sucked into this type of content with not much of a way to get out of it. Knudsen makes a good point in his interview with Fox News Digital: “in a short amount of time, they create a profile and start looking at a few things, it doesn’t take long and pretty soon they’re getting pornography, they’re getting drugs, they’re getting eating disorder content pushed hat them very quickly. It should be concerning to every parent and guardian” (Shultz).

As a TikTok user and viewer myself, I wholeheartedly agree with the investigations as well as the statements and claims that were made by Knudsen. Many things go under the radar and seep through the cracks which are detrimental to society.  I absolutely agree that there must be a movement to improve what is posted and other rules and regulations on the app. Because there are beneficial aspects of this app and platform, the solution is not to get rid of it. I have learned so much from it, including daily hacks, tips as a college student, recipes, and so much more. It also has served as a real-time news source for the Ukraine-Russia Crisis, with many of their civilians creating up-to-date videos showing what they are truly going through. However, on the flip side, there is a very dark, and terrible side of TikTok which must be investigated, and further action must be taken to keep from further harm to viewers’ lives, mental health, and overall well-being. As much as there is a responsibility on each creator individually, I believe there lies a huge responsibility on TikTok itself, and they must be held accountable for how they have ruined the lives of so many young people.

Julia is in the entreprenurship program at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2025.