How UT Adapted to Governor’s TikTok Ban
Mar 06, 2023

How UT Adapted to Governor’s TikTok Ban

Reporting Texas TV

AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott issued a ban on access to the TikTok app on government Wi-Fi on Feb. 6, which required all government institutions to implement the changes by Feb 15. The ban followed several concerns raised by Gov. Abbott around the app, including data harvesting. 

TikTok hosts millions of unique content creators. Users can watch just about anything while scrolling the ‘For You’ page. This ban means UT students can’t access the popular app while using the university’s Wi-Fi network. Other social media apps were not part of the ban, which left many students wondering why the governor targeted this app in particular.

Junior Artie Trasshko said he uses TikTok to connect with other musicians. He said the ban doesn’t affect him much, as he can use his cellular data instead of Wi-Fi. However, he said the ban raised red flags about Gov. Abbott’s intentions.

“Data harvesting is happening everywhere,” Trasshko said. “The only thing that is different about TikTok is that it’s going to China, versus Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, all these ‘great American companies’ that are also harvesting our data, and nobody is saying nothing about it.”

Kathleen Mabley leads UT’s Moody College of Communication marketing team. She said short form content, like the kind previously featured on Moody’s TikTok page, is essential right now as attention spans grow smaller.

Mabley said building a strong TikTok following had been difficult for Moody’s social media team, so when the ban forced the deletion of the TikTok profile, pivoting was easy.

“We had a TikTok specific intern, and she was amazing, and did a lot of fun videos, but when the ban happened we just switched to Instagram Reels pretty easily,” Mabley said.

The same style of short form content previously seen on the TikTok page, like a video of two cartoon dogs dancing across the famous Moody Bridge, can now be found on Moody’s Instagram.

TikTok user Raza North, who has nearly a million followers on the app, said converting followers between platforms is key. He posts comedic content and ‘man on the street’ interviews conducted across Austin.

North said he’s always working to increase his reach by posting across other platforms like Instagram and Youtube. By driving followers there, he said he will be fine if TikTok gets banned statewide.

TikTok user Raza North (@RazaNorth) interviews students on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo: Emma Claire Ellis, Reporting Texas TV)

A press release from Gov. Abbott cited an immense threat to cybersecurity posed by the app.

“The security risks associated with the use of TikTok on devices used to conduct the important business of our state must not be underestimated or ignored,” Abbott said.

UT Austin computer science professor Hovav Shacham said that as long as certain protections are in place, there should be no concern of cybersecurity threats with any app used on a mobile device.

“There certainly are cybersecurity concerns in the world and all sorts of ways in which devices are compromised,” Shacham said. “I do think there are steps we can take to improve security for people. I just don’t know that this specific action here is meaningfully justified by that necessity.”

Shacham said there is a wide range of issues that fall under the term of cyber security, like data-brokers collecting and selling sensitive data, such as data on users’ mental health.

“We are definitely not in a state of perfect security and perfect privacy for everyone,” said Shacham. “Just going ahead and banning TikTok, and leaving the rest of the state of the world as is, is not a coherent response.”