Utah sues TikTok again, this time alleging sexual exploitation of children

The state is alleging that TikTok's live-streaming feature has "created a virtual strip club" for kids.
TikTok Children
Posted at 1:09 PM, Jun 04, 2024

The state of Utah has filed another lawsuit against social media giant TikTok. This time, the state is alleging the video app "created a virtual strip club" that allowed young people to be sexually exploited in exchange for money that TikTok takes a cut of.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, alleges a live-streaming feature called TikTok Live would allow adult users to give a digital currency to younger users in exchange for sexual acts. TikTok, the state claims in the lawsuit, would take a commission on every transaction. The state also claims TikTok has made money from the exploitation of children, though the lawsuit itself redacts exactly how much.

"TikTok has created a virtual strip club allowing minors to be exploited across America by connecting innocent victims to predators in real time. Adding insult to injury, Live facilitates money laundering while TikTok quietly charges 50% on every transaction to profit in the billions from the entire enterprise," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement Monday announcing the lawsuit. “Our investigation confirmed TikTok knows of the damage to young victims but feels it makes far too much money to stop."

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Scripps News Salt Lake City first reported last year that during a court hearing, the state hinted it had additional investigations into TikTok. Utah Division of Consumer Protection Director Katie Hass confirmed this lawsuit emerged out of those investigations.

"Now that we’ve been able to obtain that information from TikTok, not surprising they didn’t want to turn this information over to us. We are taking this action now," Hass said.

The state of Utah's new lawsuit also makes claims that TikTok Live's virtual currency could allow criminals to host illegal gambling, sell drugs and fund terrorist activities. The Utah Division of Consumer Protection claims TikTok is avoiding regulatory requirements designed to identify criminal behavior and protect users.

"I find the new allegations against TikTok Live not merely concerning but incredibly disturbing. Such disregard for the safety of young users on the platform, much less profiting off their exploitation, cannot and will not be tolerated," Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement. "We will take all necessary actions to protect them from TikTok’s egregious behavior."

In a statement to Scripps News Salt Lake City, a spokesperson for TikTok denied the allegations and insisted measures were in place to protect children.

"TikTok has industry-leading policies and measures to help protect the safety and well-being of teens. Creators must be at least 18 years old before they can go LIVE, and their account must meet a follower requirement. We immediately revoke access to features if we find accounts that do not meet our age requirements," the company said.

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This is the second lawsuit that has been filed against TikTok by the state of Utah. Last year, the state sued, alleging TikTok designed an addictive app that has harmed the mental health of the state's youth. That case is currently being litigated in court.

Utah has also been locked in a battle with TikTok over internal documents. The Utah Attorney General's Office repeatedly pushed a judge to hold the company in contempt, claiming TikTok was not complying with subpoenas — something TikTok lawyers vehemently denied. The judge ultimately pushed a compromise.

The governor and attorney general have had a long-running campaign against social media platforms, alleging that addictive algorithms and content served up to young people have contributed to mental health issues, including lack of sleep, bullying and negative body image.

The state of Utah is also suing Meta, the owners of Facebook and Instagram, accusing them of contributing to harm to the mental health of Utah youth.

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The Utah State Legislature has passed bills seeking to regulate social platforms, including demanding they implement age verification, reduce their algorithm reach, implement time restrictions and stop serving up ads to children. Some of the state's restrictions have prompted a coalition of tech companies to sue Utah, alleging violations of the First Amendment.

The state is also being sued by content creators who allege the state's restrictions harm their free speech rights.

This story was originally published by Ben Winslow at Scripps News Salt Lake City.