Lawsuit: Texas College TikTok Ban Unconstitutional

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University alleges that Texas' TikTok ban prevents faculty from studying and teaching the social media app's influence on young people in society.
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Published on July 20, 2023
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  • Texas banned the app from state-used devices and public Wi-Fi networks last year. The ban included public colleges and universities.
  • The ban prevents faculty from conducting research and teaching about the app's impacts on society, according to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research.
  • The lawsuit counters Texas' claim that the ban protects citizens from having their data stolen by saying other technology companies regularly gather users' information.

When Texas banned TikTok from public networks and state-used devices, Gov. Greg Abbott said that the security risks associated with the use of TikTok "must not be underestimated or ignored."

Now, a new lawsuit alleges that the Texas TikTok ban, which includes public colleges and universities, is ignoring the U.S. Constitution.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit July 13 on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research (CITR), saying that banning TikTok violates the First Amendment.

"Banning public university faculty from studying and teaching with TikTok is not a sensible or constitutional response to concerns about data-collection and disinformation," Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, said in a press release.

"Texas must pursue its objectives with tools that don't impose such a heavy burden on First Amendment rights. Privacy legislation would be a good place to start."

Texas is one of several states to ban the popular video social media app owned by China-based company ByteDance, which has faced criticism and allegations from U.S. lawmakers that it shares users' data with the Chinese government.

The lawsuit claims that banning TikTok violates the academic freedom of public university faculty and impedes vital research on the impact of technology on society.

The lawsuit gives an example from Jacqueline Vickery, an associate professor at the University of North Texas, who used TikTok in the classroom to focus on how young people use social media for informal learning, activism, and expression.

According to the lawsuit, she had to suspend research projects, alter her research and teaching methodology, and eliminate course materials. She has also been unable to respond to student questions and conduct peer-review work.

"That Texas's ban restricts public university faculty from undertaking research that might illuminate privacy risks means that the ban is counterproductive, not simply ineffective," the lawsuit says.

"And it is fatal to the ban's constitutionality that Texas could address these risks without effectively barring public university professors from studying, and teaching with, one of the world's most popular and influential communications platforms."

The lawsuit counters Texas' claims that the ban protects Texans' privacy by stating that other major companies like Meta and Alphabet regularly collect users' information.

"Like it or not, TikTok is an immensely popular communications platform, and its policies and practices are influencing culture and politics around the world," Dave Karpf, a CITR board member and associate professor at George Washington University, said in the press release.

"It's important that scholars and researchers be able to study the platform and illuminate the risks associated with it. Ironically, Texas's misguided ban is impeding our members from studying the very risks that Texas says it wants to address."