Nebraska AG Doug Peterson on why he’s investigating TikTok

Attorney general: "That whole culture of body image and being able to push it to create popularity, it's certainly out there. And I think it's dangerous and concerning.”

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps for young people.

According to Statista, people between the ages of 10 to 19 make up 25 percent of U.S. TikTok users.

This week, Nebraska became one of at least eight states to launch an investigation to see if the company is in violation of consumer protection laws.

“Young people are being deceived about the potential that they can be as an influencer,” Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said.

Because TikTok videos range from 15 seconds to three minutes, it’s easy to watch a lot of them in a short period of time.

It also helps users go viral and build a large audience quickly.

“It’s very tempting for the young person to think that if I can develop a video, or a pattern of videos, then I can develop a following,” Peterson said. “And to do that, you’ll see them do more and more extreme things.”

CHI Health mental health therapist Michael Pella said TikTok stimulates the pleasure principle in our brain, which results in users continually seeking out that content.

“A lot of kids are drawn to the social media because their fear of missing out on things that other kids are talking about at school, so they want to kind of feel like they fit in,” Pella said.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln social media professor Bryan Wang said TikTok has plenty of benefits, including providing an avenue for visual communication and opportunities for community building, but acknowledged that social media can create misleading ideals of success, popularity and attractiveness.

“We talk about the body image issues, a lot of it comes from that social comparison,” Wang said.  “[Users] tend to think the videos are portrayed as normal life.”

Peterson said, “That whole culture of body image and being able to push it to create popularity, it’s certainly out there. And I think it’s dangerous and concerning.”

Peterson cautions that social media is so prevalent in the lives of young people that simply going “cold turkey” could have a devastating impact on them.

He suggests that parents have conversations with their kids about social media usage, recommending “The Social Dilemma” and “Childhood 2.0” as two documentaries that open the door to having these conversations.

Peterson said the two legal options attorneys general have to hold TikTok accountable are antitrust cases and consumer protection laws.

The investigation will look into the specific harms that TikTok causes young people and what the company knew about them.

“If the business model is designed to keep them engaged that long and it’s having an impact on the mental well-being of a lot of young people, I think that’s the appropriate place for the attorney generals to step in,” Peterson said.

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