Utah Lawsuit Accuses TikTok of Enabling ‘Virtual Stripclub’ and Putting Kids at Risk

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 06, 2024

A new lawsuit filed in Utah court by the state alleges that the functionality of a feature on the social media app TikTok, called TikTok LIVE, is enabling adults to prey on children and minors on the app.

TikTok Live allows users to pay for a live streamer to make content on the app, which the lawsuit argues sets up a situation where adults are paying for content from kids akin to a ‘virtual strip club.’

Utah Statement

On Monday, the government of Utah released a statement about its lawsuit against TikTok, accusing the company of “raking in millions from virtual strip clubs involving minors.”

Advertisement
A sign that welcomes travelers to Utah on the road.

Source: Taylor Brandon/Unsplash

“The Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection and Utah Attorney General allege TikTok has knowingly built a revenue stream fueled by illegal activity against young users,” the statement opens.

Advertisement

Second Lawsuit

The statement describes how this is the state’s second attempt at a lawsuit on a related subject matter towards TikTok. The previous one was filed in October 2023, during which an investigation revealed a deeper problem that prompted this new lawsuit.

Advertisement
A court gavel seen in contrast lighting on a marble surface.

Source: Wesley Tingey/Unsplash

“In October 2023, the State filed a consumer protection case against TikTok for intentionally designing and deploying addictive features to hook young users into endless use of its app. During the course of the Division’s ongoing investigation of these practices, it became clear that the dangers TikTok poses to children are not limited to its addictive algorithm but also include an open-door policy for criminals to prey on users, particularly minors, through its TikTok LIVE feature,” said the statement.

TikTok Currency

On TikTok LIVE, the company created a digital currency that allows for the monetization of TikTok user’s live streams. This monetization aspect is a major focus of the suit.

Advertisement
A phone is positioned to the side, allowing the TikTok app to be displayed horizontally instead of vertically.

Source: Franck/Unsplash

“This new Complaint alleges that TikTok coupled its livestream feature with monetization to create an environment built on exchanging TikTok’s currency for illegal acts. TikTok’s own internal studies and the admissions of its employees document how TikTok LIVE has allowed adults to pay young users to strip, pose, and dance provocatively for currency that can be cashed out for real money,” the statement said.

Exploited for Commission

In addition to that explosive allegation, the lawsuit also alleges that TikTok itself is financially benefitting from a situation where minors and kids are being sexually exploited.

Advertisement
Silhouette of a hand holding up a smartphone with the TikTok logo illuminated on the screen

Source: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

“As these young users are sexually exploited, the Complaint alleges that TikTok takes as much as a fifty percent commission on every transaction on LIVE, allowing TikTok to reap exorbitant profits, which amount to millions of dollars in Utah alone,” the statement on the Utah Commerce blog said.

Governor Statement

The Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, also weighed in on the lawsuit and what he sees as disturbing behavior enabled by TikTok.

The governor of Utah Spencer Cox speaking while wearing a red tie.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia

“I find the new allegations against TikTok Live not merely concerning but incredibly disturbing. Such disregard for the safety of young users on the platform, much less profiting off their exploitation, cannot and will not be tolerated,” said Cox. “We will take all necessary actions to protect them from TikTok’s egregious behavior.”

Advertisement

Innocent Victims

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who was part of the TikTok investigation, was appalled by the damage to young victims that was uncovered and Tikok’s attitude about it.

A phone screen displaying various app widgets

Source: Wikipedia Commons

“Our investigation confirmed TikTok knows of the damage to young victims but feels it makes far too much money to stop. There are so many layers of harm in its practices that we cannot wait a day longer to act. The State of Utah is front and center in the fight against child exploitation. This suit is just one of many ways we are fighting for child safety online,” said Reyes.

Advertisement

TikTok Denies Allegations

Tiktok for its part has denied the allegations from the state of Utah, describing in a statement to Scripps News the protections they have in place to ensure minors cannot be exploited.

A sign lit up with the colors of Tiktok.

Source: Eyestetix Studio/Unsplash

“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 follower requirement. We immediately revoke access to features if we find accounts that do not meet our age requirements,” said TikTok.

Advertisement

Utah Campaign Against Tech

TikTok is not the only major tech platform that the state of Utah is concerned with. Utah is also suing Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram.

A close-up of a judge holding a wooden gavel on a wooden surface.

Source: KATRIN BOLOVTSOVA/Pexels

In their suit against Meta, the state alleges that their social media platforms are engaged in a practice of contributing to the harm of Utah youth’s mental health.

Advertisement

Legislature Ramping Up

In addition to the Governor, Attorney General, and several government agencies gunning for TikTok and other social media platforms, the state legislature is also on the battlefield.

The capitol building in Utah seen during the day.

Source: GyozaDumpling/Wikimeida

Previously, the Utah state legislature has created bills that would regulate several aspects of social media platforms, mandating and restricting features of these apps and their access to children.

Advertisement

Suing Back

Tech companies were not happy with these bills from the Utah legislature, causing them to form a coalition to sue the state on First Amendment grounds.

A wooden gavel resting on its sound block beside a document titled 'LAWSUIT' with a pen to its right side on a wooden surface

Source: wirestock/freepik

In May, the coalition of TikTok, Google, X, Snapchat, Meta, and more filed an amended lawsuit to block Utah social media legislation from going into effect. “For the second time, Utah has enacted a law violating bedrock constitutional principles of free speech in attempting to regulate minors’ access to ‘social media,'” attorneys for the case wrote.

Advertisement

High Stakes for Minors

This new lawsuit by the Utah government against TikTok is just the latest in a war between tech companies and the state.

A close-up of an FBI badge next to a gun.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

While tech companies argue that Utah is going too far on free speech grounds to protect minors, some feel that the potential for minors to be exploited on the internet is worth the extra restrictions from the government. According to FBI data, over 50 percent of victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15.

Advertisement