Louisiana is one of the first states to advise school districts to ban TikTok, a popular social media platform, from all school-owned devices, amid major privacy concerns.
In a Jan. 3 letter to school districts, and charter and private schools, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley highlighted reports that foreign governments could use the platform, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, to access users’ private information.
He implored districts to delete—or never create— their own TikTok accounts, or allow school-sponsored clubs, and other extracurricular organizations, to do so. Districts should also block the platform on school-issued digital devices, such as laptops, a department spokesman added.
“I have very little reason to believe that we can trust the privacy of American children to this foreign application,” Brumley said in a telephone interview with Education Week.
The decision to ban TikTok will ultimately be up to Louisiana’s district and school leaders. Brumley doesn’t have the power to force schools to block the platform, though he said a few leaders have already told him they support the move.
Other officials in the Pelican State, including Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, have also prohibited TikTok on state devices.
I believe you should strongly consider removing TikTok apps from your devices and blocking its use on your networks.
More states are likely to issue similar guidance, because TikTok is considered “an untrustworthy application” by a growing number of cybersecurity experts, said Doug Levin, the national director of the K12 Security Information Exchange and a national expert on K12 cybersecurity.
The Louisiana move comes just weeks after Eric Mackey, Alabama’s state schools chief, noted in a newsletter for school district leaders in the state that Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, had banned TikTok from state-owned laptops, tablets, and other devices.
“The order does not technically apply to local school boards, which own and maintain their own networks,” Mackey wrote. “However, I would strongly encourage you to review your current policies and procedures around school system-owned devices and platforms. Based on the latest information, I believe you should strongly consider removing TikTok apps from your devices and blocking its use on your networks.”
TikTok responds to data privacy criticisms
At least 13 other states have prohibited the use of TikTok and other apps owned by foreign companies in China and Russia from being used on state-owned devices. Those states include Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, according to NBC news. Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate have proposed a similar ban on federally-owned devices.
Jamal Brown, a TikTok spokesman, said the company is “disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok.”
Many K-12 teachers and school leaders already see TikTok as a major headache. Not only can it distract students from classwork, the platform has also spawned viral challenges—including last year’s “devious licks” challenge—which resulted in widespread school property damage.
But other educators have used it as a teaching tool, giving students the option of making a TikTok to explain concepts like the Missouri Compromise or ancient trade routes.
Joe Harmon, an 8th and 10th grade social studies teacher at Redbank Valley High School in New Bethlehem, Pa., uses the platform to build relationships with students, have fun, and make a little extra money. And one in four usershas turned to TikTok for educational purposes, according to a survey from study.com, an online learning platform.
Brumley acknowledged that the platform is beloved by many students. But, he added, “we have to be the adults in the room and use the information that we have to best protect them. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”