Italy slaps a $11 million fine on TikTok for failing to keep the platform safe for minors over ‘French scar’ challenge

Rome: The Chinese ByteDance-owned platform had failed to protect vulnerable adolescents who could be influenced by group behaviors, according to Italian antitrust group AGCM.

The watchdog referred specifically to videos of the “French scar” challenge, where young users would pinch their cheeks to create bruises on their cheekbones. TikTok hasn’t taken “adequate measures” to make it a safe space for users, AGCM said, following an investigation on the subject that kicked off a year ago.

The move comes less than a month after a different Italian regulator urged TikTok to pull the videos off its platform after the dangerous “French scar” trend went viral. It’s also certainly not the first time that TikTok has been scrutinized for being unsafe for minors and faced fines on those accounts. Last year, Britain fined the short video-sharing app nearly $16 million for misusing children’s data and breaching its own age restriction for the platform’s users.

Independent organizations have also found that TikTok’s “For You” page could nudge young users toward harmful content. In February, New York’s mayor Eric Adams sued TikTok, along with other social media platforms like Meta, for driving a youth mental health crisis. The European Union has kicked off an investigation of its own on the Chinese-owned app surrounding issues of data use and protection of minors.

Although there’ve been numerous instances of TikTok failing to do its bit in making the social media app safe for all its users, it disagreed with Italian AGCM’s move.

“The so-called ‘French scar’ content averaged just 100 daily searches in Italy prior to the AGCM’s announcement last year, and we long ago restricted visibility of this content to (under-18s),” a TikTok spokesperson told Fortune.

Italian watchdogs have had to intervene to prevent TikToks getting out of hand in the past. For instance, in 2021, a “blackout challenge” on the app led to the death of a ten-year-old girl, following which TikTok deleted 500,000 accounts that had ages it couldn’t be verified.

TikTok is under pressure in one of its biggest markets—the U.S.—where lawmakers voted in favor of a bill on Wednesday to possibly ban the platform. The U.S. bill, which the House of Representatives passed, will now face the Senate where the outcome remains uncertain.

Among the many concerns are those pertaining to its links with the Chinese government, which TikTok has denied. Those fears have led numerous governments to ban the platform on government devices.

Despite its future hanging in the balance, TikTok is undoubtedly among the most influential social media platforms with over 1 billion users globally. How the platform addresses complaints over its lack of safety could point to its direction in the future.