Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Wednesday that she and other attorneys general across the country have launched an investigation into how the popular app TikTok might affect young people’s physical and mental health.
The investigation will look into the app’s potential harms and how much its developers might have known about these harms, according to a statement from Healey’s office.
Recent data from the World Health Organization shows one in seven people between the ages of 10 and 19 experiences some kind of mental health disorder. With a large volume of people in this age range on TikTok, the attorneys general are concerned the app could be making this situation worse.
“As children and teens already grapple with issues of anxiety, social pressure and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental wellbeing,” Healey said. “State attorneys general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives.”
The attorneys general leading the investigation are from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont. The investigation will zero in on the ways the app tries to boost user engagement in young people, including “increasing the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform,” Healey’s statement added.
In a statement sent to Newsweek, a spokesperson from TikTok said the company builds youth well-being into its policies.
“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”
TikTok announced in February it would update its community guidelines to strengthen some of its policies encouraging “safety, security and well-being” on the platform. These updates included broadening its criteria for content that could promote eating disorders and clarifying that actions like using incorrect names or pronouns for another app user constitutes hateful ideologies and is prohibited.
While the app has been praised for spreading mental health awareness, it has also received criticism as many young people misdiagnosed themselves with conditions like ADHD and Tourette Syndrome after seeing the conditions represented in TikTok videos, according to a release from Banner Health.
Dr. Adeola Adelayo, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, said in the release that Generation Z is “one of the greatest generations when it comes to their mental health.”
“I love hearing from a child that they are in therapy for their anxiety,” Adelayo said. “Mental health is just as important as physical health. In this way, awareness is good.”
However, Adelayo urged young people to go see professionals before jumping to any conclusions about their mental or physical health.
“It’s really important for people to connect with the right scientific information and professionals so they can get the right evidence-based treatments,” she said. “They don’t have to live with how they’re feeling forever.”
Update 03/02/22 5:20 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information and a statement from TikTok.