State agencies in Texas are now required to remove the popular video-sharing app TikTok from government-issued devices due to a directive released by Governor Greg Abbott.
In response, the University of Texas, as well as the Texas A&M system and UT Dallas are restricting the use of the app on campus internet.
While there is no doubt that TikTok harvests a truly mind-blowing amount of data from users’ phones there are major issues with banning a widespread social media app from use by the students and faculty of a public university.
The first lies in the issue of free speech and expression. A lot of students at universities live on campus, and if the app is banned on campus networks most of the time they cannot use the app. Social media has been used to spark social change since its invention.
The Arab Spring, which brought anti-corruption uprisings to a large section of the Arab world, would not have been possible without the use of social media. During the Black Lives Matters protest of 2020, TikTok acted as a platform to disseminate important information to keep people informed and safe during protests. It also acted as a platform to share information and ideas with people who may have never paid attention to racial tensions in the U.S. before that point.
The idea of a government entity being able to cut off a population from a major communication platform is scary. Without the free and accurate exchange of information, a population is much more vulnerable to the spread of misinformation and harmful propaganda which we saw so much of during the 2020 elections. Which we will continue to see work its way through the American public, tearing us apart and keeping us focused on inane culture war topics like how sexy an M&M should or should not be, instead of focusing on issues that have real and lasting effects.
Of course, the accurate part of “free and accurate information” is equally important and something that TikTok does not do the best job of ensuring. Moderating misinformation is becoming more important than ever for all social platforms, but cutting the public off from a platform as massive as TikTok is an overreach of the government.
Hate spreads among the uninformed. Fear and misery and hatred are spewed by people who, most of the time, don’t know any better.
In a time where a large number of people get their news from social media platforms, it is incredibly important that no one is cut off from vital sources of information. It is equally important that those platforms recognize their responsibility to the public and provide fact-checking services and content moderation.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
While banning TikTok from government facilities is not quite a full attack on our first amendment rights, making a large platform difficult to access for a large number of its users comes incredibly close.
Historically, the loss of fundamental freedoms is a slow, banal and painful process.