Following a bipartisan bill proposed by the House and Senate to ban TikTok federally on Dec. 13, several public universities have followed suit instituting a TikTok ban on their campuses. The initial ban was aimed at government-owned devices and networks in an effort to avoid sensitive information being leaked to the Chinese social media app known for collecting users’ data. While this threat may have some credibility for lawmakers, banning the app on public campuses crosses the line into censorship. College students are not harboring the nations’ secrets and will find ways to bypass the block. While TikTok’s ban grows in popularity under the guise of national security, people should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to use the app.
Since its introduction in 2016, TikTok has come under attack from both the Trump and Biden administration citing fears over national security and the role China plays in controlling the app. The data collecting feature of TikTok, however, is not a new concept. All social media, as well as most internet websites and search engines, collect our data to better personalize our experiences and offer us products that we would be more likely to buy. TikTok is now being singled out because it is owned and operated in China making some fearful of them having our information and the unlikely threat of communism. The average American and college student are constantly being surveilled through their online usage and the introduction of TikTok is not something new that the general public fears.
Simply banning the app on public campuses will not stop college students from accessing it. This ban is both wrong and pointless as students will just use their own wifi or data to continue accessing the app. Monitoring access to any platform reeks of censorship and blaming TikTok is just another attempt to prevent an honest exchange of ideas, particularly amongst young people. In recent months the U.S. has seen a rise in the banning of books that are deemed “inappropriate” for students in K-12 schools, and now universities are beginning to feel the need to censor students’ social media. The books being targeted typically feature ideas that deal with race and the experiences of marginalized communities, making it seem that the U.S. is only concerned with hiding “progressive” ideas and wants to avoid these types of conversations to keep the public docile.
TikTok has developed several subculture communities and is generally known as a place to share ideas and speak freely. Many people use the app to relieve stress or grow their platforms. The information spread on the app is tailored to the user and harmful rhetoric is rare but usually only found if one is seeking it out and can be found anywhere on the internet, not exclusively on TikTok. Those who have previously felt isolated are now making friends and seeing others who look like them and have shared experiences on the app. While some students oppose the app due to its addictive properties or because they do not care for social media as a whole, it is unlikely that they are doing so because they are concerned about the ties the app has to China. TikTok is just like any other currently popular social media site, its downfall, however, is that it is owned by a Chinese company thus making its platform politicized.
The banning of TikTok on public campuses should be taken cautiously as it could lead to larger forms of censorship. Campuses are a place where students learn about the world and become exposed to different viewpoints. Educational institutions hold the power as to what information their students have access to and limiting certain views is concerning. Banning access to knowledge or information is not a new concept, but this new decision is proving to be the beginning of censorship in social media.