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Utah AG wants TikTok, Snapchat to do more to protect children

Letter urges social media companies to provide better parental controls and monitoring

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Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is pictured during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on July 22, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes signed on to a letter urging TikTok and Snapchat to do more to protect children on their apps and give more options for parental control and monitoring.

“Your platforms do not effectively collaborate with parental control applications ... or otherwise provide an adequate opportunity for parental control within the platform,” reads the letter from the National Association of Attorneys General, which was signed by 44 attorneys general and is addressed to attorneys for both social media companies.

With bipartisan support, the letter comes as social media platforms face increased scrutiny over how they regulate and disseminate content. It cited a recent report that found that in 2021, 91% of teens encountered nudity or sexual content through social media, texts and email, 85% witnessed or experienced cyberbullying and 75% were “involved in a self-harm/suicidal situation.”

The letter argues that such content can harm teenagers’ body image and “seriously harm a child’s view of a healthy relationship and ... perpetuate domestic abuse and human trafficking.” The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok’s algorithms can funnel minors toward mature content promoting pornography and drug use.

Parental control apps can potentially save lives, the letter says, by notifying parents of “instances of severe bullying” and “self-harm situations.”

But others are less convinced that more controls will actually protect children, according to The New York Times. In 2019, Vice questioned the efficacy of similar monitoring software used in schools, reporting a lack of evidence that it successfully prevents students from accessing violent or sexually inappropriate content.

The attorneys general association acknowledged that TikTok and Snapchat have taken steps to provide more options to parents. They didn’t endorse a particular software, though, instead asking the companies to make their platforms more compatible with third-party applications so that parents can choose the best options for themselves.

“Social media platforms already engage in some content moderation and operate under some community guidelines,” said a statement released by Reyes’ office. “Still, they are not always sufficient to protect children and teenagers who are particularly vulnerable to online threats, especially concerning direct messaging.”

TikTok’s current parental controls include the ability to set accounts to private, limit who can comment on videos and remove access to the platform’s search feature, according to TechCrunch.

Last month, a separate group of state attorneys general announced it was “investigating if the design and promotion of TikTok contribute to physical and mental health harms for teenagers and young adults,” The New York Times reported.