Utah Sues TikTok Over Claims the App Exploits Young Users in “Virtual Strip Club”

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Shutterstock via CNN Photo Source: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Shutterstock via CNN

TikTok is facing another lawsuit, this time from the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, that alleges that the popular video-sharing app "created a virtual strip club" that made it possible for young users to be sexually exploited.

The complaint argues that adults on the app were allowed to send virtual currency to young users in exchange for “sexual solicitation and exploitation.” With each payment sent to young users, TikTok made a profit by taking a cut from the transaction.

The lawsuit has sections of redacted information and portrays in detail the many ways adult users exploited young users on the app. Some of the ways included coded language that signaled young girls to engage in certain ways. For example, “fit check” means lifting your shirt to show your stomach; “you forgot something” or “get something from the back” means walking away and showing your rear; “outfit check” where girls would back up to show their entire bodies; and “feet check” or “toe ring check” to show their feet. The lawsuit explains that live streams shown through the app’s “TikTok LIVE” feature with this coded language were bombarded with paying viewers.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes shared that the somewhat controversial app allowed “minors to be exploited across America by connecting innocent victims to predators in real-time.” Reyes goes on, “Adding insult to injury, Live facilitates money laundering while TikTok quietly charges fifty percent on every transaction to profit in the billions from the entire enterprise. Our investigation confirmed TikTok knows of the damage to young victims but it feels it makes far too much money to stop.”

With these actions, the state accuses TikTok of violating the Utah Consumers Sales Practices Act, through deceptive acts or practices (Utah Code § 13-11-4) and unconscionable acts or practices concerning sexual exploitation and other illegal acts ( Utah Code § 13-11-5).

TikTok was quick to defend its actions, saying that the app has industry-leading policies in place to protect its younger users. A statement for the company shared, “Creators must be at least 18 years old before they can go LIVE and their account must meet a follower requirement,” adding, “We immediately revoke access to features if we find accounts that do not meet our age requirements.”

Along with accusations of sexually exploiting young users, Utah’s lawsuit goes on to argue that the LIVE feature spells disaster as it encourages other financial crimes to take place such as money laundering, the sale of drugs, gambling rings, and even the potential to “fund terrorism.” The complaint includes snapshots of dangerous activities and the ease of access for such acts to take place.

The state’s governor shared his thoughts about the app by saying his state “will take all necessary actions to protect them from TikTok’s egregious behavior.”

This is not the first time Utah has taken legal action against TikTok. In 2023, Utah filed a lawsuit against the app arguing that it “illegally baits children into addictive and unhealthy use.”

Regulation of social media apps, particularly TikTok, has been on the rise over the past couple of years. TikTok has been at the center of many of these lawsuits because it is a Chinese-owned company, and there have been concerns regarding its use of customer data and privacy policies.

Utah is also pursuing a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, over its role in contributing to the mental health harm of young people in the state.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
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