Arkansas campuses differ in their approach to the state’s TikTok ban

According to movements of the then governor. When Asa Hutchinson and his successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, banned TikTok from state government devices, some Arkansas colleges and universities followed suit.

However, the University of Arkansas system, which includes Arkansas’ flagship university, Fayetteville, and many other major campuses in the state, is still investigating the issue.

System spokesman Nate Hinkel said in an email that neither a memo released by the Hutchinson government in December nor the Sanders order this month “applied directly to higher education,” but the system “with our IT Officials and our campus were in touch regarding the concerns surrounding TikTok and the likelihood of legislation that would ban its use on government devices.

“While we have not taken direct action to ban TikTok at this time, discussions and research have been conducted within the UA system to determine the best way forward and to prepare for the likelihood of laws restricting its use,” said Hinkel.

“We take cybersecurity very seriously and understand the need to be vigilant in these matters.”

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, meanwhile, has already taken action, joining the University of Texas and campuses in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia in restricting access to TikTok on the university’s Wi-Fi.

ASU chief communications officer Bill Smith said the university is simply fulfilling what it has to do in terms of state networks.

“My understanding is that the students just walk [use] their cellular data as in all other circumstances and [continue] carry on as they wish,” he said. “I think that’s the clear thing to keep in mind. While it’s not on state-issued devices and we don’t use it on our network, that doesn’t mean students can’t continue to use it. It doesn’t affect her in that way.”

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville released a statement to its students, faculty and staff on Jan. 4, noting the suspension of the app on the university network. The official university-supported TikTok account will no longer be used under the terms of the suspension.

Rachel Putnam, associate director of strategic communications at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, which is part of the UA System, said the university has been following conversations about data security and information security as it relates to TikTok, and it’s no surprise that these policies were introduced by Governors Hutchinson and Sanders.

“Security is always a priority, including data security, so we’re well-equipped to change our content plan, whether TikTok has a place in it or not,” she said. “In addition to leveraging other short video platforms like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, we also look ahead to new platforms.”

Putnam added that the popularity of the university’s BeReal account has allowed it to show a real day in the life to prospective students who “want to see our real students in real-time.” BeReal is a social media platform that asks users to post once a day at specific times.

Lena Davis, a junior marketing and social media assistant at the university, believes the content team can focus on Instagram Reels and the BeReal account.

“At UAFS we want to be authentic and show the real life of our students,” she said. “The newly popular BeReal app allows us to do just that. We can chat, encourage, and interact with our community, and our prospective students can get a better understanding of what it’s like to be a Lion. Also Instagram reels [allow] to be authentic to us [a] short video format similar to TikTok.”

At least one public school district has also banned TikTok.

Springdale School District Public Relations Specialist Mary Jordan said the district does not allow the app in any way and it is blocked on the district’s Wi-Fi network.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. Critics say the Chinese government could access user data such as browsing history and location. The US armed forces have banned the app on military devices.

Used by two-thirds of American teenagers, TikTok has become the second most popular domain in the world, reports The Associated Press.

According to the AP, news reports from last year indicated that a China-based team had compromised data on US TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to track down the source of leaks to the press. There are also concerns that the company is sending bulk user data to China, in violation of strict European data protection rules.

“We are disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that do nothing to improve cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” said Jamal Brown, a spokesman for TikTok, in one Email to the AP.

At least 22 other states, including Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, have enacted bans on using TikTok on state devices. Last month, Congress banned TikTok from most US government-issued devices over bipartisan security concerns.

According to the New York Times, Idaho colleges including Boise State University and the University of Oklahoma recently said TikTok has been banned from their campus Wi-Fi networks.

Idaho State University’s official TikTok account has been deactivated, and the Times reported that more changes may be imminent. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, in a Jan. 3 letter, asked the Montana University System to stop allowing TikTok on its networks, citing security risks.

Following an order last month from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to ban use of TikTok, the University of Texas at Austin has banned the social media app from its networks.