TikTok exposes children to 'graphic' content, Iowa says in parental control lawsuit

TikTok is pushing back after a lawsuit filed by the state of Iowa this week over parental rights. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said this week that the state filed suit against influential social media app TikTok for not being truthful to parents about their children's ability to access inappropriate material on its platform.

On Wednesday, Bird said young users of TikTok are exposed to adult content that includes nudity and sexual material, profanity, mature and suggestive themes, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.

Bird said TikTok has left parents in the dark about such content being available to their children.

"It's time we shine a light on TikTok for exposing young children to graphic materials such as sexual content, self-harm, illegal drug use, and worse," Bird said in a statement. "TikTok has sneaked past parental blocks by misrepresenting the severity of the content.

"As a mom and prosecutor, I am committed to equipping parents with information to keep their kids safe and to holding TikTok accountable."

The Iowa attorney general's office said TikTok's workaround parental controls on Apple devices allow the company to incorrectly rate its app as one for consumers ages "12+" when, in reality, content is more appropriate for users 17 or older.

"TikTok's deception violates the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act," the office said. "The lawsuit aims to stop TikTok from misleading parents and users about the availability of inappropriate content on the app."

TikTok pushed back on the lawsuit in an email to the Des Moines Register, saying it "has industry-leading safeguards in place for young people, including parental controls and time limits for those under 18. We are committed to tackling industry-wide challenges and will continue to prioritize community."

Iowa officials follow in the footsteps of Indiana, which went to court with similar charges in December 2022. In their suit, Indiana charged that TikTok intentionally markets its app incorrectly for the purpose of getting around parental controls.