Students and professors protest TikTok bans at state schools

Students and professors protest TikTok bans at state schools
With over 25 states banning the use of short-form video app TikTok on state-owned devices, it comes as no surprise that the ban has been extended to public schools in these states. With parent company ByteDance located in China, there have been numerous concerns about the app collecting users' personal data and even capturing keystrokes to learn passwords and other information.

Bloomberg reports that the TikTok ban has worked its way to more than a dozen state-run universities including Auburn University, the University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, and more recently the University of Texas, Austin. Some schools have banned TikTok from being installed on university-owned devices while other schools won't allow TikTok to be used on campus networks. Some schools use both methods to ban TikTok.

TikTok was the most downloaded app globally in 2022

After the still popular TikTok app was banned at the University of Texas, Austin, both students and even professors at the school spoke out against restricting the app. Kate Biberdorf, 36, an associate professor of chemistry at the university said, "I use TikTok as an educational tool to make science fun and accessible. To have that tool be taken away by a university, that doesn’t sit right with me. Right now in our community, it feels like our rights are being taken away, and this is another push in the wrong direction."

Biberdorf is not only a fan of the app, she is also a content creator known as Kate the Chemist and has 194,400 TikTok followers. Attending the same school, 22-year-old theater-education major Grace Featherston said that people should be allowed to make their own decisions about using an app owned by a company located in China. She said, "It’s the choice of US citizens, whether they want to consume TikTok and whether they want to take that risk."

Featherston has 27,000 followers on TikTok who view her videos that discuss Broadway shows, social trends, and current events. Like many TikTok users, even though she is aware of the risks of using the app, it doesn't bother her enough to make her stop using Tik Tok. That's because using the app makes her an internet celebrity while delivering entertainment to her. 

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Politicians supporting such bans or even a nationwide ban of the app will need to consider the possible blowback from younger voters. Featherston says that she will consider a politician's position on TikTok before she votes. The demographics of TikTok users match those of the 'voters under 30' group that helped the Democrats outperform expectations for the 2022 mid-term election. So all politicians need to handle this situation carefully rather than risk alienating this important block of votersb.

ByteDance defends itself by stating that it doesn't share data with the Chinese government and has strict controls inside the company that limit the access to user data. Even with these controls, ByteDance said that some employees tracked journalists by violating company rules to access user data belonging to Americans. Still, TikTok was the most installed app worldwide last year with 672 million global downloads.

TikTok users belong to a demographic that both political parties covet

Rick McElroy, principal security strategist at tech firm VMware Inc. says that security fears should not be overlooked when it comes to TikTok. McElroy says that the personal data collected by an app like TikTok could be used by a company or even a government to track high-profile individuals and damage their reputations using misinformation campaigns. The aforementioned tracking of journalists is a real-life example.

Former President Donald Trump tried to force ByteDance to sell TikTok's U.S. operations to American companies. Eventually, Trump said that he had a deal 'in concept' with Walmart and Oracle but the deal never materialized and Trump turned his attention to the 2020 presidential election.

As of the beginning of this year, TikTok has 1 billion active users in 154 countries. The app records videos in a vertical orientation and such content can run for 10 seconds to as long as 10 minutes.  The app can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS users while Android users can download TikTok from the Google Play Store.

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