‘We’re never going to get it perfect, but we’re at least going to try to improve,’ says Tik Tok executive in court
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Todd Rokita’s battle against the powerful made-in-China social media giant, TikTok, is being waged in Allen Superior Court.
Sometime next week or in the next couple of months, Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay of the civil division will render a decision on whether the Indiana Attorney General can force the entertainment platform to change its rating in app stores, stop content “leakages” to minors and re-align its violation policies to more accurately reflect what a video is all about.
TikTok burst on the scene in 2018 after Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Owned by Chinese company, Bytedance Ltd., its more than nine billion short videos – which have 21 trillion views – have been used for marketing, music, influencers and even legal advice.
However, its operators have been blamed for not reining in its appeal to young people, particularly those younger than 18.
Some of those videos were presented in court as both sides brought in lawyers from Washington, D.C. along with local and Indianapolis attorneys. Black legal wheelbarrows full of printed material in boxes made it difficult, at times, for attorneys to maneuver their corner of the courtroom.
David Thompson, of Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, who appeared on behalf of Rokita, grilled TikTok’s head of Family Safety and Developmental Health, Dr. Tracy Elizabeth.
Elizabeth defended her company’s policy and said TikTok “needed to get the word out” to let parents known there is the 12+ rated app.
But after Rokita’s team played a video of a young woman singing about sex along with lyrics about sexual violence, Thompson had questions for Elizabeth.
“When your daughter turns 13, do you want her to watch this video? Under your policies, it’s being served up as ‘no violations,’” he said.
Elizabeth repied that the content passed approval because the woman still had her clothes on and there was no violence demonstrated in the video.
That didn’t satisfy Thompson, who presented a letter from Apple sent to TikTok this past December questioning the content of seven videos. Thompson also brought up in court at least two articles published by the Wall Street Journal, one entitled “How TikTok Serves up Sex and Drugs to Minors.”
Prior to Thompson’s appearance, TikTok attorney, John Hall of Washington D.C.’s prestigious Covington & Burling, also took Elizabeth through the paces.
Most videos on the app, Elizabeth said, were “affirming and safe.”
Meanwhile, kids find ways around the 12+ rating and TikTok’s “internal playbooks,” according to testimony Friday. Officials said they are constantly evolving protocols to make the platform safer. Ninety percent of material violating TikTok’s policies on nudity, drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sexual content is removed, Elizabeth added.
“We’re never going to get it perfect, but we’re at least going to try to improve,” Elizabeth stated. The challenge is the “immediacy” of being able to post a video, she said.
Along with the lawsuit filed in Allen County, Rokita filed a federal lawsuit against Tiktok in the U.S. District Court of Northern Indiana, as well. No scheduled hearing has been set on that case as of yet.
Friday, Rokita praised the work of his legal team and vowed to continue his fight against a company he calls the “Chinese Trojan Horse.”
“Our team put forward its case demonstrating in court today that TikTok’s app has dangerous depictions of drug use, alcohol consumption, illicit sexual activities and other harmful content,” Rokita said in his statement. “TikTok’s false assurance that its app is safe for users as young as 12 years old is a violation of Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. I’m proud of our team’s excellent legal work in this case.”
“We will continue to unwaveringly work to protect young Hoosiers and hold this Chinese-Communist-controlled company accountable,” Rokita continued in his statement.