Chief Information Officers Frank Feagans and Nate Howe informed all Comets via email on Jan. 17 that UTD would block TikTok on devices connected to the university’s “wired and Wi-Fi networks.”
After banning the app on state devices in December, Gov. Greg Abbott asked all public universities in Texas to present their policy on TikTok use. UTD responded with new provisions for personal use within weeks of Abbott’s announcement.Specifically, no one connected to “CometNet” will be able to access TikTok, but university-owned housing will not be affected since third-party vendors manage those networks. Any employee or student with questions should seek assistance from the Office of Information Technology’s Help Desk.
Marketing senior Eric Aaberg — who oversees the social media accounts for the Esports program and Temoc — was in disbelief after Abbott’s letter back in December.
“I would have never thought that TikTok actually would get banned,” Aaberg said. “I’m upset because I’m a full-time content creator on the site. I use my personal TikTok to get brand deals and communicate with my audience – this is my job.”
@official_temoc is one of the most followed UTD TikTok accounts, according to Aaberg, with over 2,400 followers and 100,000 thousand likes. The last post was on December 7, 2022, the day Abbott announced the initial ban.
Aaberg is often referred to as “Mr. UTD” and has been featured in several national publications about college TikTok bans. He still posts on his @itsericaaberg account. One recent short shows him giving a “daily scream” to his followers over rumors of a bill that could ban TikTok nationwide.
The Mercury polled students about their TikTok usage in the days after the announcement and found that out of a survey size of 50, roughly half said they don’t agree with the decision and a little over 30% of respondents still plan to use the app on other cellular networks. A majority of students said that TikTok should not be banned more widely in the U.S.
According to mashable.com, since August 2021, approximately 30 states have banned the Chinese-owned platform on government devices, encompassing at least 26 public universities. The list keeps growing as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher, push to end TikTok’s operation in the U.S.
“This isn’t about creative videos … TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data and censoring their news,” Rubio said.
Professor of Instruction Janet Johnson — who teaches classes on social media and politics — has a different perspective on the app’s educational value.
“When we’re talking [about] deep fakes and we’re talking about misinformation, TikTok is sometimes a really great example to show students about what goes on and what to watch out for now,” Johnson said.
She believes there is a lot of misinformation going around about the dangers of TikTok and social media platforms.
“There are really great TikTok accounts … and those will probably be missed,” Johnson said, “and it’s hard to teach media without having the media to teach it with.”
Aaberg insists the ban is hurting not only marketing and communications majors but also UTD’s admission rates.
“It is such a powerful tool that universities can truly leverage to connect with prospective students,” Aaberg said.
TikTok is not the first app to face this amount of backlash. The anonymous messaging platform Yik Yak had to shut down after multiple college campuses banned Wi-Fi access amid cyberbullying, sexual harassment and threats of gun violence. It was relaunched in August 2021 with “community guardrails” in place.
“There’s legitimate reasons to ban it,” Johnson said.
But unlike Yik Yak, the fears over TikTok come from its parent company, ByteDance.
“Maybe we should ban it until [ByteDance] can ensure our privacy or bring a version of TikTok to America where it’s under America’s influence, not China’s,” Johnson added.
Separately, Aaberg felt the state government was setting a dangerous precedent.
“What’s stopping them from [banning] other ones that have more strange issues,” Aaberg said. “I think at the end of the day you [can] create privacy laws, create [better educated users,] but it’s up to individual Americans to take on those security issues.”