Utah sues TikTok, calling TikTok Live a ‘virtual strip club’ for teens

TThe state of Utah is suing TikTok, alleging that one of the platform’s most popular and lucrative features, TikTok Live, is used to sexually exploit children and teens, who engage in racy and inappropriate acts by exchange of virtual gifts that can be cashed. real money.

The lawsuit, which is based in part on Forbes investigation “How TikTok Live Became “A Strip Club Full of 15-Year-Olds”” – similarly describes the TikTok video streamer as “a virtual strip club” and “a seedy underbelly of sexual exploitation.” Citing this report and other internal TikTok documents that support it, obtained as part of a subpoena for documents in a separate ongoing case, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and the The state’s Division of Consumer Protection accuses TikTok of violating the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act and is seeking a jury trial.

“LIVE is far from a safe place for users, especially children, and these dangers do not arise by chance,” the 54-page, heavily redacted complaint states. “The harmful and unacceptable acts on LIVE come directly from TikTok’s in-app virtual economy, which has already facilitated billions of dollars in transactions. Money is exchanged between users, stored in user accounts and withdrawn from the platform, with little or no oversight, despite TikTok’s control over the platform. This monetary system has fostered an alarming culture of exploitation and illegal activity.

“You pay my bills.”

A 14-year-old to 2,000 strangers on TikTok Live

TikTok is in the midst of an existential crisis in the United States after President Joe Biden signed a law banning the app nationwide early next year on national security grounds unless his company China-based parent, ByteDance, does not agree to sell the platform to an American owner. But fears about the dangers TikTok may pose to children predate the national security scrutiny, which exploded in Washington with the start of the pandemic. A year earlier, the Federal Trade Commission reached a nearly $6 million settlement with TikTok (then Musical.ly) over alleged children’s privacy violations — at the time, a civil penalty record for the agency in this area. Forbes has since shed light on the prevalence of child sexual abuse material on TikTok; issues surrounding how TikTok moderators handle this content and how TikTok Live is being misused to lure young girls into engaging in suggestive and potentially illegal adult male shows on the app.

In a TikTok Live detailed in this one Forbes During the investigation, a 14-year-old girl in a bralette fielded requests from strangers at a show of 2,000 people, some offering “$35 for a flash”, asking to see her feet and telling her that ‘they would send money to its Cash app. “You pay my bills,” the girl told viewers.

In another, a teenage girl slowly cut off her shirt with a pair of scissors as an audience of 3,000 cheered her on. “IF YOU DO THE BLACK PART I WILL SEND TIKTOK LIVE 35,000 TIKTOK COINS ($400),” one commenter wrote, urging her to cut off her bra. On other TikTok streams, often filmed from girls’ bedrooms and bathrooms, they were offered financial rewards if they kissed or spread their legs on camera.

Those who watch the shows can purchase TikTok Coins which they can use to purchase and send digital gifts to the hosts of the live streams. Virtual gifts seem harmless – they include flowers, hearts, ice cream cones and lollipops – but can be converted into cash by the recipient. (Those who “go live” simply link their TikTok and bank accounts to exchange these items for real money.) But on many of the hundreds of TikTok live streams reviewed by Forbes, the gifts appear to have been sent by adults to minors, which legal and law enforcement experts say may allow predators to groom targets for sexual abuse and sextortion online or offline. The reports prompted top congressional Republicans to call a meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Chew in late 2022.

The Utah AG’s office then filed a lawsuit “to stop TikTok’s exploitative monetization scheme and protect Utah’s youth,” the complaint states. He also alleged that TikTok is not, as required by federal law, registered with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), meaning that “every transaction made on the platform avoids regulatory systems designed to identify and stop sexual exploitation.” and other illicit activities, such as money laundering, terrorist financing, drug sales, and illegal gaming – abhorrent behaviors that TikTok not only facilitates, but also profits from.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said: “I find the new allegations against TikTok Live not only concerning but incredibly disturbing. »

Do you have a tip about TikTok or child safety issues on social media? Securely contact Alexandra S. Levine on Signal/WhatsApp at (310) 526-1242 or by email at [email protected].

TikTok spokesperson Michael Hughes said in an emailed statement that “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 subscriber requirement. We immediately revoke access to features if we find accounts that do not meet our age requirements. (Utah said in its complaint that “these age restrictions are nothing more than empty political statements” and that “TikTok’s age restriction is ineffective, and many children still participate in the events daily LIVE. “)

Utah also alleged that what the company had said publicly on these issues, including in its response to ForbesThe TikTok Live investigation does not match what was happening inside the company and was in some cases false, based on internal documents reviewed by the AG’s office. (For example: Utah said TikTok’s claims about its policies and measures to protect teens, including revoking access to features for users deemed minors, are false, but the complaint redacted the internal information explaining why Utah plans to ask the court to unseal the documents.)

“Our investigation confirmed that TikTok is aware of the harm caused to young victims, but believes it makes far too much money to stop,” Utah AG Reyes said.

This is the second complaint filed by the state against TikTok. In October 2023, Utah sued the company over its addictive algorithm and other features aimed at maximizing the time young users spend in the app; TikTok has filed a motion to dismiss and is awaiting a decision. Utah is also part of a bipartisan group of state attorneys general investigating TikTok’s alleged harm toward underage users.


ForbesHow TikTok Live Became “A Strip Club Full of 15-Year-Olds”Forbes“I want this sweet baby”: AI-generated children attract predators on TikTok and InstagramForbesTikTok moderators are trained using graphic images of child sexual abuseForbesThese TikTok accounts are hiding child sexual abuse material in plain sightForbesTop Republicans call for meeting with TikTok CEO on child safety dangers