A social media platform can be many things: a place to connect with your loved ones, a haven of DIY resources and memes, or a space where you can interact with people who share your interests. But it can also be a breeding ground for legal trouble. From copyright infringement to defamation to invasion of privacy, social media users have sued or have been sued for various reasons. One particular platform that seems to be especially troublesome for users is TikTok.
The premise of TikTok is simple: it’s an app where users can share and watch short videos. But whether TikTok is a good thing or a bad thing for society is not for lawyers like us to decide. What we do know is that the following cases could have been avoided if TikTok wasn’t involved.
TikTok pays the cost of allegedly harvesting user data
In August 2022, a federal judge approved a $92-million settlement between TikTok and its users who filed a class-action lawsuit against the social media platform for supposedly harvesting personal data. The lawsuit alleged that TikTok used facial recognition and GPS technology to collect its users’ biometric information and exact locations, and shared this data with third parties. Instead of going to court where the case could drag on for years, TikTok settled with the 89 million plaintiffs of the data privacy lawsuit.
TikTok is no stranger to such cases. In 2019, it was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging that it collected children’s biometric data, such as their faces and voices, without their parents' consent. TikTok paid a whopping $5.7 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for that lawsuit.
TikTok leaves psychological trauma on moderators
Former TikTok content moderators Reece Young and Ashley Velez have sued the social media giant for allegedly failing to provide a safe work environment for its employees. The plaintiffs claim that they were not given adequate training or support to deal with the graphic content they were seeing in their job of removing disturbing and questionable videos from the platform. As a result, they now suffer from several psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to Velez and Young, they were subjected to 12-hour workdays where they were exposed to disturbing materials like beheadings, bestiality, child sexual abuse, rape, and suicide, among other things. Beyond being exposed to the graphic content, the plaintiffs claimed that they were subjected to hate speech and conspiracy theories that severely affected their mental health.
The lawsuit is being handled by the same legal team in charge of a similar case against Facebook in 2018, which resulted in the social media company paying out $52 million to 11,000 content moderators.
TikTok challenge blamed for the death of minors
TikTok is being sued by the parents of two young girls who died while copying a dangerous trend on the platform called the blackout challenge, in which users strangle themselves or hold their breaths to feel a temporary high.
According to the lawsuit, TikTok’s algorithm pushed the content onto the victims, thus enticing them to try the challenge themselves. The claim also accuses TikTok of not taking enough precautions to protect children from harmful content but instead encouraging addiction and directing kids toward age-inappropriate videos.
While TikTok has not yet commented on the ongoing litigation, a spokesperson of the company did give a statement in December 2021 regarding a case that involved a 10-year-old girl who died participating in the blackout challenge. In this statement, TikTok maintained that the blackout challenge had long predated the platform, so it couldn’t be held liable for the idea. Linked in the statement was a federal report about deaths from 1995 to 2007 caused by a certain “choking game”. TikTok also gave its deepest sympathies to the family for their loss but did not assume responsibility for the child’s death.
Perhaps we can only expect a similar response to the case at hand.
These are just a fraction of the lawsuits filed against TikTok in recent years. So if you’re thinking about joining the social media platform, be aware that you could open yourself up to legal troubles down the road. And should you ever find yourself needing legal assistance in Washington — TikTok-related or not — the law offices of Buckingham, LaGrandeur, and Williams are always ready to help. Call us at 206-222-3167 or drop us a line.