Once a recruiting tool, TikTok is now banned at Florida's public universities
During a recent class at Florida International University, marketing professor Nancy Richmond gave her students an assignment — build out their personal websites and pick a social media app to add to it.
That was before TikTok was banned from being used on the university’s devices and internet networks.
“What if students use TikTok now that I can’t look at it!” Richmond said with a laugh. “I didn’t know this was happening, so …”
It’s a sign of how ingrained the social media platform is on many college campuses — and on the phones of many college students — and the challenges posed by banning the app.
FIU and Florida Atlantic University have joined other public schools across the state in blacklisting TikTok this week, after the Florida Board of Governors passed an emergency policy blocking its use — due to data privacy and homeland security concerns around the Chinese-owned platform.
Also listed on the state’s “Prohibited Technologies List” are Kaspersky, VKontakte, Tencent QQ, WeChat and “[a]ny subsidiary or affiliate” of the those entities.
“If [young people] are in TikTok, and you can't reach them there, then you're missing out on an opportunity to communicate with them."FIU marketing professor Nancy Richmond
TikTok is wildly popular — more than 150 million Americans have an account, according to the company. And it’s the go-to platform for Gen Z — those born after 1996. According to a 2022 study by Pew Research, two-thirds of teens use TikTok.
Richmond says it’s important for her marketing students to be fluent in all the social media apps of the day, including TikTok. Still, she says the security concerns around the platform are valid — but so is the desire to meet young people where they are. And by and large, that’s on TikTok.
“If they're in TikTok, and you can't reach them there, then you're missing out on an opportunity to communicate with them,” Richmond said. “They still are going to be there. It's just that we won't be able to connect with them in the same sort of way.”
TikTok is not only a place to find dance trends and funny animals videos. For aspiring influencers, the app is a way to launch their careers reviewing restaurants, posting makeup tutorials or simply … vibing.
For many colleges, TikTok is a tool for recruiting and outreach. Search "Florida International University" on TikTok and you can find videos of the sunset on campus, favorite study spots and tips for surviving freshman year.
“So what advice I would give to my freshman self … follow your dreams, never give up, stay the course, and graduate!” said FIU President Kenneth Jessell in a TikTok posted on the school’s official account.
The school’s flagship account — @fiutiktok — features student interviews, campus tips and event highlights and has more than 34,000 followers and 2 million likes. But now that account is going quiet.
“FIU will no longer manage or post content on university-affiliated TikTok accounts,” said university spokesperson Madeline Baró. “The accounts remain inactive for the time being to retain the @handles.”
Richmond, the marketing professor, wonders if the ban could pose a problem for academics researching TikTok at Florida’s public universities.
“We’re often looking at students and their behavior and addiction and all these different things,” Richmond said. “You can't do research now on TikTok if you’re using any sort of device that's owned by the state. So that’s a little problematic.”
Regardless, Richmond says the ban won’t actually stop students from using the app.
“They're not going to stop using TikTok because it's been banned. Because they can still have their personal phones and their personal data,” Richmond said. “But if I can't show TikTok in the classroom … it does make teaching a little bit more challenging.”