Q: My state has banned TikTok on government-owned equipment (computers, phones, tablets). How does that affect how my student newsroom uses TikTok?
A: The New York Times reported that, over the past several weeks, at least 14 states passed bans prohibiting the use of TikTok on government-issued devices, citing security concerns with how the Chinese-owned company uses (or may use) its data. More states are expected to follow.
As of January 2023, Congress has also introduced legislation that would ban the platform on federally-owned equipment.
While the situation could change, right now it’s important to focus on what these bans do and don’t do.
To date, the TikTok bans only restrict access to the platform on government-owned devices and/or posting to official government accounts. Some bans also prohibit connecting to TikTok via state-owned Internet (Wi-Fi) networks. The bans do not, on their face, restrict TikTok content that students post — including student journalists working for student-edited media — using personal devices.
A ban on student media content would raise significant and serious First Amendment concerns.
As a preventative measure, we encourage student journalists in states affected by TikTok bans to create a policy requiring that student journalists who wish to use the platform only do so using personal devices on non-school networks. As an extra precaution, we also suggest that the policy include language that students are under no obligation to use/have TikTok on their personal devices to work on student media. As directed, the app should be removed from all state-owned equipment in the newsroom.
If you are facing TikTok content restrictions or need legal help, immediately contact the Student Press Law Center’s free Legal Hotline.