Why Some Universities Are Blocking Access to TikTok on Campus

A small but growing number of universities are now blocking access to TikTok on school-owned devices or WiFi networks, in the latest sign of a widening crackdown on the popular short-form video app.

The University of Oklahoma and Auburn University in Alabama have each said they will restrict student and faculty access to TikTok, in order to comply with recent moves from the governors in their respective states to ban TikTok on government-issued devices. The 26 universities and colleges in the University System of Georgia are also reportedly taking a similar step.

“In compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order 2022-33, effective immediately, no university employee or student shall access the TikTok application or website on University-owned or operated devices, including OU wired and wireless networks,” the University of Oklahoma said in an email this week.

According to the email, the school will also require that university-administered TikTok accounts be deleted and “alternate social media platforms utilized in their place.”

More than a dozen states, including Maryland, South Dakota and Texas, have announced bans in recent weeks of TikTok for state employees on government-issued devices. The bans come as a growing number of lawmakers continue to scrutinize TikTok over possible national security concerns due to its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance.

The criticism ramped up earlier this year after a Buzzfeed News report said some US user data has been repeatedly accessed from China, and cited one employee who allegedly said, “Everything is seen in China.” TikTok, for its part, has confirmed US user data can be accessed by some employees in China.

“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in a statement provided to CNN on Thursday.

“We’re especially sorry to see the unintended consequences of these rushed policies beginning to impact universities’ ability to share information, recruit students, and build communities around athletic teams, student groups, campus publications, and more,” Brown added.

Auburn University in Alabama started restricting access to TikTok on school-owned devices or Wi-Fi networks last week, in accordance with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent executive order for state-owned networks and devices to block access to and from the TikTok social media application.

But an Auburn University spokesperson told CNN the decision is “not a ban on campus.” TikTok users will still be able to access the app on personal devices via their own mobile data.

Last week, a trio of lawmakers led by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that aims to ban TikTok from operating in the United States. In a statement announcing the proposed legislation, Rubio accused TikTok of collecting data to “manipulate feeds” and blasted the app as a “CCP [Chinese Communist Party]-puppet company.”

TikTok has been negotiating for years with the US government on a potential deal that addresses national security concerns and lets the app continue serving US customers. It has also taken steps to isolate US user data from other parts of its business.

In addition, TikTok faces scrutiny over it’s powerful algorithm which may lead users, and especially its youngest users, down concerning rabbit holes, including directing them to potentially harmful subject matter such as content around suicide and eating disorders.

TikTok has made a number of announcements in recent years in an effort to ease concerns, including publishing tools to help users customize content recommendations, rolling out parental controls to give users more options to restrict what their children can see on the app, and pledging more transparency related to its content moderation systems for researchers.

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