TikTok is coming under fire for viral challenges that encourage users to engage in destructive behavior like vandalizing school bathrooms or hitting teachers.
Now Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is calling on TikTok's leadership to come to Connecticut to see the results firsthand. He sat down with NBC Connecticut's Dan Corcoran to discuss the issue.
Dan: "So first off, why send this letter?"
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Tong: "You know, this is very scary and very dangerous. TikTok started out with funny dances, this is not funny anymore. The devious licks movement on TikTok, whatever you call it, a meme or a video or something that gets people to do something that resulted in a lot of damage across the country, including New Britain High school, and temporary closure of the school. And now there's this thing called slap a teacher, which is encouraging kids to go around and hit their teachers. Very dangerous, very scary, and we've got to take action right away."
Dan: "So is the leadership at TikTok really responsible for the content that its users post?"
Tong: "I believe that they are, I mean, they run these big companies that make a lot of money. We heard about last night on "60 Minutes" how Facebook makes money off of extreme information, anti-vaccination, anti-science, you know, information, and misinformation and disinformation, that drives people to Facebook and other social media sites. This is the way that social media works. It gets your attention through things that people want to see often that encouraged dangerous or bad behavior. Things that start out maybe as being funny and then quickly tumble into something that's, that's very dangerous. And I think that TikTok, ought to take responsibility for what happens on their platform.
Dan: "Let's talk about that balance of responsibility. Is it more on the platform itself, or the parents of the teens posting these kinds of videos?"
Tong: "But we all bear responsibility, but as the father of teenagers, a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old, you know, there's only so much parents can do in this day and age with the proliferation of devices and platforms, these social media platforms reinforce these bad messages, these bad images, and I do believe that they bear some responsibility for keeping our children safe, because they're everywhere. That's how they make money. It's their ubiquitousness, the fact that everybody uses them. That makes them so powerful, so profitable and so dangerous."
Dan: "OK, so if TikTok does take you up on your offer for their leadership team to speak with your team, what do you want that company to take away from that conversation and hopefully change?"
Tong: "I want to guarantee that they're going to take the strongest possible action to protect our kids here in Connecticut, and I won't stop 'til I get it."
TikTok did not have a specific response to Tong's letter Monday night, but they issued the following comments on the devious licks challenge.
"We do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities. We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior."
A spokesperson also responded to news on the slapping challenge.
“This alleged ‘challenge’ is not a trend on TikTok, but we would remove videos promoting such behavior if posted. We expect teens to use common courtesy whether online or off and are committed to supporting messages about being good digital stewards.”