Why TikTok Is Being Investigated By The Department Of Homeland Security

TikTok is one of the most popular mobile apps in the world with a self-reported billion or more active users around the globe. Emarketer forecasts that TikTok is headed for over $11 billion in advertising revenue by 2024. Although the social network requires users to be at least 13 years old to use it, authentication for this bit of the process is mainly honesty-based. According to The New York Times, as many as a third of all TikTok users in the U.S. are under the age of 14.

The Financial Times reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has launched an investigation into concerns that the company is not doing enough to combat child sexual abuse material (CSAM). According to the report, TikTok has over 10,000 people employed specifically to moderate content across the platform, but despite this seemingly vast moderation team, TikTok appears to be struggling to keep a lid on inappropriate material and predatory activity within its network.

TikTok could be home to CSAM traffickers

According to the Financial Times report, the Department of Homeland Security noticed a pattern in TikTok accounts sharing CSAM material. With the network's "Only Me" function, users are able to post CSAM materials that are only visible to the owner of the account. This content is only accessible with the account's password, which predators share with victims and other predators. 

TikTok's website says that in addition to human moderation, it also employs machine-based moderation tools "to identify and remove exploitative content." TikTok claims they "red-flag language and share information with NCMEC [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] about situations that may indicate grooming behavior, according to their policies and industry norms." However, the report suggests that the Department of Homeland Security is concerned that TikTok still isn't doing enough to combat CSAM predators or the transmission of CSAM materials across its network.

TikTok in more trouble

Of course, these aren't the only concerns about TikTok that have been raised in recent. The U.S government under the Trump Administration sought, unsuccessfully, to have TikTok banned in the country. The administration had security concerns about the company due to its ties to the Chinese government through its parent company ByteDance. More recently, the U.S. government under the Biden Administration has backtracked on an outright ban but has instead ordered a review of all popular foreign-owned apps and any potential threats to user data or national security. 

At the time the new policy was announced, the Biden Administration remained quite strident in its position saying, "Certain countries, including the People's Republic of China (PRC), do not share [our] values and seek to leverage digital technologies and Americans' data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests." The reported investigation by the Department of Homeland Security follows news that three state attorneys are also investigating TikTok for allegedly negatively impacting the mental health of young people. The same investigation is also reviewing whether TikTok "violated state consumer protection laws and put the public at risk".