In response to a directive from Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, TikTok is now inaccessible on university WiFi and banned from being used on state-issued devices. The ban has brought about uncertainty in unlikely places such as course curricula and popular university TikTok accounts. The ban went into effect on Jan. 31.
“As the state’s flagship university, we are obligated to follow state law,” UM News and Media Relations Director Jacob Batte said.
The ban on TikTok usage on state-issued devices comes in the wake of a federal ban enforced in early January. Republican Mississippi State Rep. Becky Currie introduced a bill on Jan. 26 to further codify Reeves’ order into state law. Reeves cited concerns over privacy and security as justification for the ban.
Although parent company ByteDance claims that they would never share user data with the Chinese government, employees of the company located in China have access to app data from U.S. users.
“It’s no secret that the Chinese Communist Party is actively trying to steal U.S. intellectual property and Americans’ personal information. … Mississippi isn’t going to sit around waiting for the Chinese Communist Party to steal our state government data,” Reeves said.
Proponents of the ban fear that the Chinese government could access U.S. user data and possibly spy on and control U.S. phones, and the FBI has corroborated this. As many young people are increasingly exposed to political views on TikTok, analysts are especially concerned that the Chinese government could utilize the app to dispense propaganda.
Banning TikTok alone might be putting a bandage on a bullet hole, however, as many apps and games popular on smartphones are owned by large Chinese companies that could pose a security risk. Additionally, students will have no problem accessing the app as they can switch to their individual data plans instantly.
Some UM students express concern that the app compromises their privacy.
“I think it makes sense. Our military has already banned their members from using the app, and I don’t think it is a secret that they are stealing our data. I personally would gladly like an excuse to stop using the addicting app,” sophomore accounting major John Budd said.
Other students believe that this ban will have little impact on whether students use TikTok.
“I do have concerns about TikTok but not in regards to my schooling career. I understand a ban for government officials,” sophomore IMC major Gretchen Taylor said. “Students will still find a way to use TikTok, whether it’s using a VPN or turning off Wi-Fi. However, it could affect Ole Miss related TikTok accounts, such as those promoting the sports teams or the general Ole Miss TikTok profile.
Associate Athletics Director for Brand Strategy Kyle Campbell, speaking for Ole Miss Athletics, declined to comment on how the ban will affect TikTok accounts run by the Department of Athletics.
These accounts are primarily a tool for Ole Miss Athletics to provide content to fans, potential students and athletes. Accounts such as @Olemissbsb (Ole Miss Baseball) and @Olemissfootball (Ole Miss Football) have approximately 360,000 and 100,000 followers, respectively, and millions of content views.
The pages remain active, with some like @Olemissfootball having posted as recently as Tuesday afternoon, after the directive banning TikTok on university devices and WiFi was issued.
University of Mississippi’s chief legal officer and general counsel David Whitcomb declined to comment on whether university affiliated TikTok accounts would have to be deleted in accordance with the ban, referring The Daily Mississippian to the University of Mississippi Public Relations Department.
UMPR did not respond in time to a request for information from The Daily Mississippian.
As TikTok has exploded with popularity in recent years, many companies utilize the platform to market products and reach new audiences. Knowledge about the app and how to advertise on it is becoming increasingly important for those entering the job market.
One UM professor teaches TikTok marketing as part of his course curriculum.
“A ban could certainly complicate our methods of teaching about what is, by far, the most popular and important communication platform in popular culture today,” Instructional Assistant Professor of Social Media and Data Analytics Brad Conaway said.
Ultimately, Conaway does not think the ban will get in the way of his teaching the course.
“While we can’t show live TikTok videos in class from our state-issued devices, we will still be allowed to show previously downloaded TikTok videos. Also, while we won’t be able to access TikTok through the university’s Wi-Fi network, we should still be able to use the app by switching to individual data plans, if necessary. And we’ll still be allowed to assign work dealing with the viewing, analysis and creation of TikTok content.” Conaway said. “So, the good news is, for now, we’re not banned from talking about TikTok or teaching about it. We’ll just need to be more careful about how and when we access it.”
Other states that have taken steps to regulate the app include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
“The ban does have the vibe of parents banning dancing in the 1950s when Rock and Roll first started, doesn’t it? They still think it’s all about lip-syncing and dance trends,” Conaway said.
Conaway also expressed skepticism about the political motives behind the ban.
“I’d love to know if the government officials have evidence they’re not revealing to the public,” Conaway said. “So far, with what we know, TikTok feels like a convenient political punching bag that’s being used to score points without any appreciation of the positive role it’s played in the lives of its young users, the way it’s been able to magnify marginalized voices and in the essential role it plays in every modern marketing campaign.”