New frontier in US war on TikTok: college campuses

A new front opens in the US war against TikTok: college campuses.

The China-based app has already been banned on all federal government devices and 31 states on government devices due to data privacy concerns. Restrictions are now rolling out to universities, with Auburn University, University of Oklahoma, Texas A&M and others blocking the platform from school wifi networks in recent weeks.

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Such bans are possible because school policies allow blocking of traffic to certain websites on campus wifi networks; these measures are generally reserved for harmful content and pornography. However, these policies may also cover certain practices made in the past on platforms such as the anonymous social media account Yik Yak.

Students at schools affected by the ban have already taken to TikTok to complain, using popular memes and viral voices to raise their voices. “This regime is ridiculous,” wrote one user. Others seem to be testing the limits of such policies: “I’m not allowed to share TikTok anymore, let’s see if I can,” said another user. “Do you see this video?” (Policies only block access to TikTok on school networks and do not prevent sharing in the app using cellular data.)

Some internet freedom advocates also question the policies and describe them as a misguided form of censorship. Others say such bans mean giving up at a time when targeting Chinese technology is politically beneficial.

“This is an extension of the inept and extreme government actions taken against TikTok at the state level,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the nonprofit media watchdog Media Matters for America. “The ban will be ineffective and will only serve to collect political points and tax the already weak infrastructure.”

The university bans came amid a string of actions against TikTok in recent months by lawmakers who said its China-based parent company could collect sensitive user data and censor content contrary to the Chinese Communist party’s demands. In late December, Congress passed a measure banning the platform on all federal government devices, and similar bans were implemented in more than 30 states, including Maryland and Georgia, last year.

Many internet freedom advocates have underlined the irony of states and schools fighting so-called Chinese censorship by censoring these apps themselves.

“If it weren’t so alarming, it would be hilarious if US policymakers tried to ‘be tough on China’ by acting just like the Chinese government,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the, a nonprofit advocacy group. Future. “This is classic state-sponsored internet censorship.”

While bans on government and school devices would be easier to enforce, experts say, university measures would be much more difficult logistically because students could easily bypass the devices using cellular data instead.

“This particular ban will likely be almost inconvenient for students subject to it, and forcing students to use TikTok on their personal devices would be incredibly difficult if not technically and ethically impossible,” Mike Parkin said. senior technical engineer at cybersecurity firm Vulcan Cyber.

This can also cause congestion of data networks on campuses, causing student devices to run slower and ineffectively. TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown criticized the ban and warned that it could have unintended consequences on students’ ability to share information and connect on campus.

Texas A&M is one of the few universities to ban TikTok from the university network.

Texas A&M is one of the few universities to ban TikTok from the university network. Photo: Texas A&m University Religion Note/EPA

“We are disappointed that so many states have jumped on the political majority to issue policies based on unfounded misconceptions about TikTok that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states,” he said.

Many of these bans were enacted by schools receiving government funding in states like Texas, where lawmakers are already waging a political war against TikTok. Carusone said this episode is the latest example of the global culture wars being played out on university campuses. Whether it’s the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the Satanic panic of the 1980s, or the claims of liberal indoctrination on college campuses that began in the 1990s and continue today, young people are often used as pawns in larger political battles.

“University campuses can be an important frontline in how the rest of the culture and the political environment are dealing with the real problem,” he said. “Part of the reason why political figures think they can get away with this kind of thing is because they think they won’t have political consequences, because they think young people don’t have political power.”

Carusone said the war will only escalate in the coming months as we enter a presidential first season where being “tough with China” has seen benefits for both Democrats and Republicans.

“This will be a new focus where they’re all going to try to outdo each other,” he said. “It’s fertile ground, but TikTok is dangerous because such security concerns exist on all platforms. It becomes a hyper-political issue that does not respond to real threats.”

Gillian Diebold of the Center for Data Innovation said the bans take away from the legitimate issues at hand, including data privacy, app security and national security.

He added that measures such as passing national data privacy legislation or mandating transparency about what data is collected and mandating end-to-end encryption on all social media apps would be more effective.

“Targeting a single app won’t be a barrier to tackling these real issues,” he said. “These problems exist in every social media app, not just TikTok.”

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