AG Griffin files 3 lawsuits against social media giants over deceptive practices

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,233 views 

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin filed three different lawsuits – in three different jurisdictions – against social media giants TikTok, ByteDance, and Meta Platforms on Tuesday (March 28).

The lawsuits can be accessed at this link. TikTok is owned by ByteDance and has U.S. and Chinese affiliates. Meta Platforms, based in California, is the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

“The common theme of the three lawsuits filed today is deception, deception that endangers Arkansans, especially our children,” Griffin said at a Tuesday morning press conference in conjunction with Gov. Sarah Sanders.

“First, I filed a lawsuit against Meta to hold them accountable for their disregard of our children’s welfare. Meta has publicly misled consumers about the addictive nature of their products. Specifically, they intentionally employ algorithms that are addictive to adolescents and are rewiring how our children think, feel and behave. Instead of communicating the nature of these algorithms to the public, they actively conceal the nature of their products in pursuit of profits and growth. In testimony under oath in front of the Congress of the United States, they expressly denied the impacts that their products have on minors. We are holding Meta accountable for targeting our youth and deceiving the public about it. We are sending Silicon Valley a clear message that their success cannot come at the expense of Arkansas’s youth.

“Second, I filed two lawsuits against TikTok and ByteDance, collectively: The first lawsuit targets TikTok and ByteDance for misleading the public about the availability of adult content to teenage users. Specifically, they market their app as appropriate for teenage users while offering an abundance of posts that contain mature themes, nudity and drugs, all of which is readily available to minors.

“The second lawsuit against TikTok and ByteDance targets their false claim that Arkansans’ user data is not accessible by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.

“TikTok is deceiving the public regarding the harmful content it is putting in the hands of our kids, and it is deceiving the public about its ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Protecting Arkansas’s youth is my highest calling, and I look forward to the fight,” Griffin said.

The first lawsuit against Meta Platforms, parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, which was filed in Polk County, claims the company has deceived users and misled young consumers about the addictive nature of their products.

“In 2019, 13% of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode – a 60% increase from 2007. The quantum growth in such cases has been fueled in part by a profound technological transformation deliberately designed by some of the country’s most profitable social media giants to exploit the vulnerabilities of children’s brain development for profit,” the lawsuit states.

“Youth mental health problems have advanced in lockstep with the growth of social media platforms that have been deliberately designed to attract and addict youth by amplifying harmful material, dosing users with dopamine hits, and thereby driving youth engagement and advertising revenue. Between 2001 and 2021, the percentage of Arkansas high school students who reported feeling sad or hopeless rose from 29.7% to 42.9%.

“The platforms are especially effective and harmful to defendants’ youth audience who are more vulnerable because their brains are still developing. Adolescents have a stronger drive to socialize than adults, which manifests as heavier use of social networks and a greater sensitivity to what happens there. Social apps hijack the adolescent compulsion to connect that can be even more powerful than hunger or greed,” the lawsuit adds.

Among many requests for relief, the lawsuit asks the court for an injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing business in Arkansas, $10,000 civil penalties per violation, and the award of actual, compensatory, and statutory damages.

The second lawsuit, filed in Cleburne County, refers to TikTok as a Chinese “Trojan Horse” that has been “unleashed on unsuspecting American consumers who have been misled by the company’s false, unconscionable, and deceptive representations about the content on its platform.”

The court filing claims that tens of millions of minors are “lured” onto TikTok’s platform, but the company does not safeguard against children under age 13 from seeing mature content as a result of its algorithms.

“In order to lure these children onto its platform or convince parents that it is appropriate for their children to download, TikTok makes a variety of misleading representations and omissions to claim a 12+ rating on the Apple App Store and a ‘T’ for ‘Teen’ rating in the Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store. Once on the platform, many children are exposed to non-stop offerings of mature content that TikTok’s algorithm force-feeds to them. The resulting harm to young people, and society writ large, has been devastating,” the lawsuit says.

The court filing seeks a declaration from the court that TikTok’s actions are unlawful, unconscionable and deceptive, a preliminary and permanent injunction from deceiving Arkansans, civil penalties of $10,000 per each violation of Arkansas law, and restoration of any money or personal property from improperly obtained content.

Calling TikTok “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the third lawsuit against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, filed in Union County, says the social media firms have violated Arkansas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The claim is that they have misled consumers as to how their data will be utilized or stored.

“The Chinese government and Communist Party have a demonstrated interest in leveraging private sector data – including foreign data and that of firms like ByteDance – to grow its stores and become the world’s most data-rich power,” the lawsuit states.

“China can use TikTok user data to spy on, blackmail, and coerce TikTok users, serve them propaganda, further develop China’s artificial intelligence capabilities, or for any number of other purposes that serve China’s national security and economic interests, at the expense of Arkansas consumers,” the lawsuit also says.

This lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to cease false and deceptive statements and omissions about risk of access and exploration of consumers’ content and data by the Chinese government and/or Communist Party. It calls for TikTok to remove and destroy all data and content collected from Arkansas consumers. It also seeks $10,000 penalties for each violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and calls for a jury trial.