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Colorado Attorney General Calls Out TikTok For Mental Health Dangers

DENVER (CBS4)- The state has made the mental well-being of its youngest Coloradans a priority. Children's Hospital Colorado declared a state of emergency in youth mental health last year, a crisis that's worsened throughout the pandemic. Now Colorado's top legal officer is tackling a threat to mental health at the source – social media.

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Attorney General Phil Weiser joined a nationwide investigation into TikTok, a booming social media app that's captured the attention of millions. Attorneys general from several states are examining whether the company is violating consumer protection laws.

Weiser says TikTok and its content strategy puts its youngest users' mental health at risk.

"Kids are on social media more than ever now. A lot of what they're seeing and a lot of the content they're getting is actually leading them to be more depressed," said Wieser. "These companies have algorithms that drive teenagers to content that's often bad for them and can lead to harmful behavior."

TikTok has made Colorado headlines more than once for problems it has caused in local schools. Last year, a social media challenge encouraging theft and property damage made its way to a Loveland high school. In January, another TikTok challenge that involved students bringing weapons to class put area districts on high alert.

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"These companies have a responsibility not to engage people, but instead ask 'Are we being responsible? Are we being fair? Where are we hurting people?'" said Wieser.

The investigation will look into the dangers for young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. Wieser says they'll look at techniques used to boost youth engagement and increase the amount of time spent on the platform.

"One of the concerns about these algorithms is their goal is to keep people engaged. For young people that can mean going down a rabbit hole, leading people to depths of depression, or thinking about self-harm or eating disorders," said Wieser.

Through interactions on the app, TikTok is able to provide a personally curated feed of videos that it predicts users will enjoy. Some content features videos like cooking tutorials and adorable animals, but there are millions of posts that show unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards.

TikTok users Ashlyn and Skyler say it can be toxic for teens, especially young women.

"It's very easy to see women that are your age or a little older that are edited. Girls might think you're supposed to live up to that and that's how you're supposed to look," said Ashlyn. "I can't imagine being in middle school and seeing that. It takes away so much joy."

"It's definitely addicting. You'll say 'Okay, the next video is going to be the last one.' Then that video ends up being funny and you want to just keep watching more," said Skyler.

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Wieser says the goal is to come to a collaborative solution that protects youth. He's already gone after other social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, for aiming to engage children. Those investigations are still ongoing, but he's prepared to take on TikTok.

"If we have serious concerns about their behavior and say that they're acting in a way that's unfair and illegal and don't want to change it, we could then go to court," said Wieser.

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