Law & Principles

Ray Carter | December 22, 2022

Agencies, schools, responding to Stitt’s TikTok ban

Ray Carter

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive order banning the use of the TikTok social-media app by state entities is being implemented, although many state entities are tight-lipped about whether they previously used TikTok, which has drawn scrutiny for its potential exploitation by the Chinese Communist Party.

On Dec. 8, Stitt issued an executive order directing “that no executive branch employee or agency of the State of Oklahoma shall download or use the TikTok application or visit the TikTok website on government networks or government-issued devices, including State-issued cell phones, computers, or any other device capable of internet connectivity, and that TikTok shall be blacklisted from State networks and State-managed devices.”

The order also barred contractors who work for state government from using TikTok on government networks or other state-owned or state-leased equipment.

The executive order noted that TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, which can “gain control of crucial user information stored on mobile devices through TikTok’s broad data collection policies,” including Internet browsing data, keystrokes, and location information. In turn, the Chinese Communist Party can obtain this personal information because Chinese national security laws compel companies operating in China, such as ByteDance, to share their data with the government upon request.

“Maintaining the cybersecurity of state government is necessary to continue to serve and protect Oklahoma citizens and we will not participate in helping the Chinese Communist Party gain access to government information,” Stitt said.

Since then, state agencies and higher-education institutions have begun announcing policy changes to comply with Stitt’s executive order.

An email sent to Oklahoma State University employees on Dec. 21 stated that OSU will now “block access to TikTok on its wired and wireless networks, effective 10 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 22,” and that OSU employees “may not use OSU-issued devices to access TikTok.”

A similar message was released by the University of Oklahoma on Dec. 20 stating that “no University employee or student shall access the TikTok application or website on University-owned or operated devices, including OU wired and wireless networks.”

The OU message also stated that “access to the TikTok platform will be blocked and cannot be accessed from the campus network.”

It also stated, “University-administered TikTok accounts must be deleted and alternate social media platforms utilized in their place.”

Although that last line indicated that OU officials did use TikTok accounts, the university did not divulge to what degree the college relied on TikTok prior to Stitt’s order, although the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs requested that information.

“TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news.” —Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI)

OU was not alone in ducking questions about potential prior reliance on TikTok. Several agencies were contacted for this article, but those responding did not always directly address that question.

One of those that did address the question, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, said the agency had not used TikTok.

“The department uses many other safer and more effective tools to promote Oklahoma—without having used TikTok—so this executive order does not adversely affect our ability to raise awareness of the state as a destination,” said Rylie Mansuetti, public information officer for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation. “In compliance with the governor’s executive order, OTRD staff members have been informed that they are prohibited from accessing the app on government networks and government-issued devices.”

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which included the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, provided a similar statement.

“The Oklahoma Department of Commerce does not have an account on TikTok, nor have we ever utilized this platform,” said Stefanie Appleton, a spokesperson for the agency.

Stitt is not alone in seeking to restrict use of TikTok as other governors have joined him in banning TikTok on state networks and similar bans are being discussed at the federal level with bipartisan support for a ban.

On Dec. 13, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), introduced legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the United States. The Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act) would block and prohibit all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern.

“This isn’t about creative videos—this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day,” Rubio said. “We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China.”

“TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news,” Gallagher said.

“At a time when the Chinese Communist Party and our other adversaries abroad are seeking any advantage they can find against the United States through espionage and mass surveillance, it is imperative that we do not allow hostile powers to potentially control social media networks that could be easily weaponized against us,” Krishnamoorthi said.

In addition, the 4,115-page omnibus bill for funding the government that is now being debated in Congress includes a provision banning TikTok use on government devices.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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