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US Attorneys General Launch New Probe into the Dangers of TikTok for Young Users



US Attorneys General Launch New Probe into the Dangers of TikTok for Young Users

TikTok will come under regulatory scrutiny in the US once again as part of a new investigation into the impacts that TikTok content can have on the mental health and wellbeing of younger users.

As per CNBC:

TikTok is under investigation by a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to determine if the popular short-form video platform’s design, operations or promotion to young users negatively affects their physical or mental health. The AGs are seeking to find out if the short-form video app violated state consumer-protection laws.”

The investigation will examine how TikTok entices young users, and the content it displays, and how those factors can influence behavior and response – and whether TikTok knowingly puts youngsters at risk through its recommendation systems.

The announcement comes just a day after US President Joe Biden put the focus on the negative impacts of social media once again, after calling out the harms caused by social apps in his annual State of the Union address.

We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit. It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”

The new TikTok probe won’t be looking at data collection specifically, but it could form another element in a broader push against social media apps, and their negative impacts on younger audiences.


The same coalition of AGs also launched a similar investigation into Instagram last November.

What will that mean for TikTok?

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It’s hard to say, especially since the Instagram probe is also in progress, so we have no precedent, as such, to indicate the potential findings and recommendations. But it could result in new restrictions for younger users, and potentially a change in the age limit for access to these apps, along with stricter enforcement for any such rules, and penalties for violations.

That’s a difficult area in itself, because in general, online age verification systems are not highly complex, and can easily be side-stepped by increasingly web-savvy youngsters. The platforms are doing more to address this – Instagram added compulsory age checks last year, as well as a new process which defaults teen users into private accounts, and restricts ad targeting capacity for younger audiences. But there are still concerns surrounding their impacts, and with Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen in attendance at the State of the Union address, it does seem that this will be a high priority focus over the coming year.

For its part, TikTok says that it’s doing all it can to protect its primarily young audience.  

Responding to the news, TikTok provided this statement (via Axios):

“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. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

Definitely, there are concerns, and there have been various cases of harm and mental health impacts as a result of social media use.  


But at the same time, social media is now such a critical part of our interactive process, and has become even more so over the past two years, amid the restrictions of the pandemic. Is it possible to create a system that offers adequate protection, while also facilitating connection across such a broad group?

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Meta’s Adding More Ad Targeting Information to its Ad Library Listings



Meta's Adding More Ad Targeting Information to its Ad Library Listings

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytics scandal, Meta has implemented a range of data protection measures to ensure that it limits access to users’ personal data and insight, while at the same time, it’s also been working to provide more transparency into how its systems are being used by different groups to target their messaging.

These conflicting approaches require a delicate balance, one which Meta has largely been able to maintain via its Ad Library, which enables anyone to see any ad being run by any Facebook Page in the recent past.

Now, Meta’s looking to add to that insight, with new information being added to the Ad Library on how Pages are using social issue, electoral or political ads in their process.

Meta ad targeting

As you can see here, the updated Ad Library overview will include more specific information on how each advertiser is using these more sensitive targeting options, which could help researchers detect misuse or report concerns.

As explained by Meta:

“At the end of this month, detailed targeting information for social issue, electoral or political ads will be made available to vetted academic researchers through the Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) environment […] Coming in July, our publicly available Ad Library will also include a summary of targeting information for social issue, electoral or political ads run after launch. This update will include data on the total number of social issue, electoral and political ads a Page ran using each type of targeting (such as location, demographics and interests) and the percentage of social issue, electoral and political ad spend used to target those options.”

That’s a significant update for Meta’s ad transparency efforts, which will help researchers better understand key trends in ad usage, and how they relate to messaging resonance and response.

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Meta has come under scrutiny over such in the past, with independent investigations finding that housing ads, for example, were illegally using race-based exclusions in their ad targeting. That led to Meta changing its rules on how its exclusions can be used, and this new expansion could eventually lead to similar, by making discriminatory ad targeting easier to identify, with direct examples from Meta’s system.


For regular advertisers, it could also give you some additional insight into your competitors’ tactics. You might find more detailed information on how other brands are honing in on specific audiences, which may not be discriminatory, but may highlight new angles for your own marketing efforts.

It’s a good transparency update, which should glean significant benefits for researchers trying to better understand how Meta’s intricate ad targeting system is being used in various ways.

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