Gov. Greg Abbott banned the social media platform TikTok from government-issued cellphones and computers on Wednesday, becoming the latest GOP governor to target the video-sharing app over cybersecurity fears.
Abbott cited concerns that TikTok posed a threat to state information given that the app is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray expressed worry that the Chinese government could use the app’s recommendation algorithm to manipulate content or users. He warned that the Chinese government doesn’t share the United States’ values and said “that should concern us.”
The video-sharing app, which has popularized dance trends and inspired viral challenges, had almost 87 million users in the U.S. in 2021. The federal government has warned of TikTok’s security risks for years. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app.
Republican governors in South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland have banned TikTok from government-issued devices. Republicans in Wisconsin petitioned their Democratic governor to do the same.
In letters to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and state agency leaders, Abbott said banning TikTok from government-issued cellphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers would protect sensitive information and critical infrastructure from the Chinese government.
“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices—including when, where, and how they conduct Internet activity—and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” Abbott’s letter read.
Abbott acknowledged that TikTok has said its data is stored in the U.S., but he expressed concern that the Chinese government could use the app to surveil American citizens.
The governor also directed the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Information Resources to develop a plan to address the use of TikTok on the personal devices of government employees. One area of focus Abbott mentioned included network-based restrictions that would prevent access to TikTok while on agency property.
Abbott left some room for flexibility in the social media ban, allowing state agency leaders to use TikTok for law-enforcement investigations and “other legitimate uses.”
Closer to home, State Rep Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) filed House Bill 896 that would prohibit minors from obtaining social media accounts in Texas. Specifically, the legislation seeks to limit social media usage to profile accounts 18 years of age and older, requires profiles to utilize photo identification as a means of age verification, allows parents the opportunity to request account removal of their child, and grants enforcement of deceptive trade practices to the Office of the Attorney General if violated.
“The harms social media poses to minors are demonstrable not just in the internal research from the very social media companies that create these addictive products, but in the skyrocketing depression, anxiety, and even suicide rates we are seeing afflict children,” said Greg Sindelar, CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Social media is the pre-1964 cigarette. Once thought to be perfectly safe for users, social media access to minors has led to remarkable rises in self-harm, suicide, and mental health issues,” said Rep. Patterson. “The Texas legislature must act this session to protect children because, thus far, the social media platforms have failed to do so. HB 896 is a solution to this crisis.”
A majority of this article by William Melhado, The Texas Tribune. This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/07/greg-abbott-tiktok-ban/.