UW System bans TikTok from campus-owned devices

Posted March 10, 2023

Reacting to concerns of lawmakers, the University of Wisconsin is restricting the social media application TikTok on system-owned devices at its campuses, including UW-River Falls.

“The UW system will be restricting the TikTok application on System-owned devices,” Media Relations Director Mark Pitsch stated in an email last month.

The ban comes off the heels of an executive order in January from Gov. Tony Evers that banned TikTok, along with other applications, on all state government-owned devices.

The ban stems from concerns over cybersecurity with the app, according to the order. The order notes that “under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses registered or that have operations in China are required to assist the government of China in intelligence work, including data sharing and data collecting.” TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

“The State of Wisconsin reaffirms its commitment to regular, ongoing review of such technologies to protect the interests of the State and of the people of Wisconsin,” the order reads.

Procedures for how the ban will be enacted at UW-River Falls are being handled by a task force, according to Joseph Kmiech, executive director of the Division of Technology Services.

According to Kmiech, UWRF has more than 2,000 campus-owned devices, including staff computers, lab computers, phones and tablets.

“Only 10 campus owned mobile devices had the TikTok application installed, only in areas that are using them for marketing events for students,” he stated in an email.

While procedures are still in the works with how the UW System will prohibit the application, other entities on campus which use TikTok are finding alternative ways to utilize the platform’s content style.

“I hope we can find a way to utilize ‘TikTok style’ content through other measures, such as Instagram reels,” Elise Peters, the events and activities director of Student Involvement, said in an email.

“We know that students are on TikTok, and it is a great way to communicate with our student body,” she said. “I am confident we will still be able to utilize other avenues to get our message across.”

Amber Mitchell, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies who teaches a course about social media marketing communications, agreed.

“I am monitoring how it is unfolding. We still teach about it, in terms of understanding the content that’s being shared…but at the same time being mindful of the regulations that are in place,” she said. “It highlights the importance of having a diversified marketing strategy where you can’t be reliant on one platform.”

In a letter sent to the Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman on Jan. 23, several congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, urged the UW System to extend the governor’s government ban to universities. Van Orden, a Republican, represents Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Pierce and Pepin counties.

“Given the widespread recognition that TikTok poses a national security threat, we urge you to ban TikTok from UW System devices and block it from UW System Wi-Fi and wired networks,” the letter said.

Similar bans at other universities across the country were cited in the latter. One such university is the University of Texas at Austin. In a statement posted on Jan. 17, that university banned the use of TikTok on any device that is connected to the university’s wired, or wireless network.

“The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the university’s network and to our critical infrastructure,” according to the statement.

The social media app TikTok launched in 2017. With more than 1 billion total active monthly users globally, TikTok ranked sixth in the world among social networks, according to the business data platform Statista.