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New TikTok probe to investigate if app is harming kids’ mental health

Attorneys general from at least eight states have launched an investigation into whether the popular social media app has violated state consumer protection laws.

Attorneys general from at least eight states have launched an investigation into TikTok to determine if the popular social media app has violated state consumer protection laws by not doing enough to keep its young users protected from potentially harmful effects to their mental and physical health.

A bipartisan group of state attorneys from Massachusetts, Florida, Kentucky, California, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont and Nebraska has taken the lead on the probe.

"This investigation of TikTok will focus on what TikTok knows about its platform, its algorithm, and its impact on young people," Connecticut attorney general William Tong said in a news conference Wednesday. "Whether it knows that it causes harm to young people. The types of harms it is aware and what it’s doing about it."

The investigation is looking into the potential mental and physical risks of children using the platform, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and used by more than a billion people a month. The probe will focus on the methods TikTok uses to boost engagement by young users and increase their time spent on the app.

"We’re looking at things like whether there was a harm to children for things like anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation, or body image, and what TikTok did to engage young people," California attorney general Rob Bonta told NBC News senior Washington correspondent Hallie Jackson on TODAY Thursday.

TikTok responded to the investigation with a statement to NBC News.

"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 company said.

The announcement of the investigation came a day after President Joe Biden mentioned the corrosive effects of social media on young users and the need for more protections in his State of the Union speech.

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

The latest investigation also comes four months after a bipartisan group of attorneys general from multiple states launched an investigation into Instagram to determine the potential harms to children of extended engagement on the social media app. It also investigated whether Instagram's parent company, Meta, violated consumer protection laws.

A Meta spokesperson told NBC News at the time that the investigation was based on "a deep misunderstanding of the facts" and that Meta "leads the industry" in supporting young users.

The investigation into Instagram in November came just weeks after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told Congress that Meta knew Instagram was "toxic," particularly for the mental health of teen girls. Haugen was a guest at Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, spoke on TODAY in September about Wall Street Journal report alleging that Meta knew Instagram can have a harmful effect on the mental health of teen girls.

"I don’t think that’s exactly what the research said, but I do want to be very clear if anybody leaves using Instagram feeling worse about themselves that’s an important issue we need to take seriously," Mosseri told Craig Melvin.

This isn't the first time TikTok has come under fire, either, as former President Donald Trump wanted to ban the app in the U.S. in 2020 due to concerns about how the Chinese-owned platform could collect sensitive personal data and potentially be forced to share it with the Chinese government.