Public universities across the U.S. are banning their students’ beloved TikTok app from their schools. In some cases, this means no students, faculty members, staff, or visitors are able to access the short-form video platform on school devices or on the campus WiFi networks.
At least 20 public universities have made the decision to ban the app from their servers or have recommended their students to remove the app from their personal devices, according to NBC News. Most of the universities are acting under pressure from state lawmakers—some of whom have passed laws banning TikTok from state-owned devices.
Auburn University, University of Oklahoma, University of Texas-Austin, and Texas A&M—the biggest college campus in the U.S.—are among the growing list.
Why universities are banning TikTok
The bans stem from security concerns regarding the app’s China-based parent company ByteDance. U.S. security experts are worried ByteDance could share its extensive collection of data on American users with the Chinese government.
“We do have national security concerns,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in November. “They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.”
In the past, U.S.-based executives in charge of TikTok have denied that the app is being influenced by Beijing. “The Chinese Communist Party has neither direct nor indirect control of ByteDance or TikTok,” the company said in a statement. “ByteDance is a private, global company, nearly 60 percent of which is owned by global institutional investors, with the rest owned primarily by the company’s founders and its employees—including thousands of Americans.”
(U.S. skeptics say that China’s broad security laws would require ByteDance to share data with the Chinese government if asked.)
More than 30 states have ramped up their efforts to limit access to the app and many public universities, which fall under the purview of state laws, are following suit. In the case of Texas A&M, one of the largest public universities in the country with nearly 75,000 students, TikTok has been totally banned.
Even the university’s popular TikTok accounts are no exception. Their TAMU Physics & Astronomy page with over 1.5 million followers updated its bio to read, “We no longer post to TikTok. Check our YouTube for the latest videos!” Their last video upload on the platform was on Dec. 6.
This decision from the Texas university came after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered TikTok to be banned from all Texas state agency devices. Now other large public universities are feeling pressure to do the same. The University of Florida recently said there’s a “strong possibility” they’ll also establish a ban.
Attempts to limit access to the app on the federal level have existed for years. In 2020, former President President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app nationwide due to national security concerns. The Trump Administration also pushed for Bytedance to sell its U.S. operations to a U.S.-based company. Oracle and Walmart were among reported suitors, but no deal came to fruition.
How students are reacting
Students aren’t happy. “I didn’t think Texas public universities banning TikTok would have that much of an effect on me, but I’ve tried to open TikTok 3 times in the past 2 hours and she’s just… gone,” wrote Sidney Golden on Twitter.
But as much as these universities are attempting to limit their student’s access to TikTok, they won’t be able to fully eliminate it from their phones. Many of users are still accessing the app via their cellular data, personal WiFi networks, or VPNs.
Eric Aaberg, a student at the University of Austin, is still making TikToks on his personal page, but will no longer be able to work on the university’s mascot page, which he’s been helping to develop for years. “People loved it and now it just rots away,” he told his followers following his university’s ban. “I don’t care if you don’t like TikTok. This is my job. This is what I do for a living.”
TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps in America—especially for Gen Z, which makes up the largest portion of current college students. The app has about 80 million monthly active users in the United States, 60% of whom are 16 and 24, according to digital marketing agency Wallaroo Media.
Will the U.S. ban TikTok?
Some restriction on the app at the federal level have been successful. In December, Congress successfully banned the Chinese-owned app from all federal government devices.
“We’re disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices — a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests — rather than encouraging the Administration to conclude its national security review,” said Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, following the passing of Congress’ bill.
Questions remain on whether a federal ban of the platform would run afoul of free speech rights. In the meantime, a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House is calling for an outright ban of the app for all U.S. users due to concerns of China’s Communist Party having access to the app’s data.
“It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a press release on the legislation.