A.G. Reyes, Gov. Cox want TikTok to answer questions about social media’s potential harm to young Utahns

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Gov. Spencer Cox want the popular social media company to respond in full to questions about consumer protection laws.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox looks on as Attorney General Sean Reyes talks about pending lawsuits with social media companies to protect the youth, during a news conference at the Capitol, on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

Utah is stepping up the fight against social media companies for allegedly harming young people, asking a judge to force TikTok to answer questions about whether the company violated the state’s consumer protection laws.

On Tuesday, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes filed suit asking the 3rd District Court to force TikTok to respond to questions as part of an investigation.

Tuesday’s filing does not place any curbs on young Utahns’ use of social media. Instead, the state asks the court to force TikTok to comply with a pair of subpoenas from the Utah Department of Commerce. However, state officials described the move as crucial to protecting children.

“Utah will not stop insisting that social media companies be held accountable for the harm they are causing to our youth,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a news release about the legal maneuvering.

“For too long, two essential questions have gone unanswered: how is TikTok conducting itself in the State of Utah, and how is it impacting the lives of children?” Reyes added.

The questions the state wants answers to revolve around how TikTok enforces several content standards on the platform. Those include topics such as prohibiting nudity, sexual solicitation and content that promote unhealthy eating habits. The state also wants to know if the company has taken any steps to restrict access to content by minors and any research into how TikTok impacts the mental health of young users. There are several questions about how the company’s algorithm suggests content to viewers.

ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune.

Tuesday’s filing continues the Cox administration’s crusade against social media companies and makes good on a promise Cox made earlier this month.

“In the coming months, you will see lawsuits being filed by the state of Utah to hold them [social media companies] accountable,” Cox said during a July 9 interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

In March, Utah became the first state to approve regulations restricting how children use social media, including requiring companies to verify a user’s age to open or maintain a social media account. Minors who want to use social media must get permission from a parent. The new regulations will go into effect next year and likely draw several legal challenges.