On Dec. 7, 2022, Gov. Brad Little handed down the executive order banning TikTok on state-issued devices, and campus wifi, leaving many wondering why this ban is necessary.
What’s the key difference between TikTok and other social media apps? TikTok is a platform where users post videos ranging from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. The app sports various styles of content from dancing videos, dinner recipes, comedy, animals and more.
However, TikTok has been a controversial platform since its release. According to the governor’s personal website, it’s a necessary step in the “fight against communism.”
The ban orders school institutions to forgo their TikTok accounts. This is the case for the Boise State Bronco Shop.
Sonnay Alvarez, the marketing and promotions coordinator for the Bronco Shop, used TikTok for marketing and promotional campaigns in the past.
“Bronco Shop had a lot of success recruiting students to the point where we were fully staffed because of TikTok,” Alvarez said. “We had numerous students tell us during interviews that they applied because the Bronco Shop seemed like a fun place to work based on our hiring content on TikTok.”
The shop used TikTok for recruiting, launching and promoting products along with sharing information. Alvarez and her student assistant ran the account, which had several videos that reached upwards of 40,000 views. And despite having four times the number of followers on Instagram, their Instagram reel videos only reached upwards of 10,000 views.
The shop still uses other forms of social media for marketing, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, but Alvarez said their viewer growth will be at a slower rate.
“One of the top rules in marketing is ’be where your audience is,’’ Alvarez said. “A majority of our audience is on TikTok, so it is unfortunate that we can no longer use that platform.”
TikTok, like all social media, can pose risks to consumers on an individual level. Human traffickers and others seeking to cause harm can sometimes extrapolate the location of the user based on the backgrounds of their posts. TikTok also datamines extensively, and poses a few unique risks in comparison to other social media platforms.
One of these risks is due to the extent of the data mining. According to Edward Vasko, director of cyber security operations at Boise State University, past versions of TikTok’s mining policies were much more invasive than other social media platforms and tracked information from sites you visit immediately after leaving the app.
“If data mining is a scale, Google, Meta, Apple, all these other companies, they mine about 75-80% of data. TikTok mines about 90%,” Vasko said.
According to Vasko, the risk level for the individual is relatively low. The risk is more concentrated on an aggregate level. Facebook has had issues with foreign intervention, where countries like Russia purposefully create accounts and content to cause unrest in America.
TikTok has the same potential for social manipulation. The key difference is that unlike with American companies, the government cannot ask TikTok to flag false or misleading content.
“I think that you have to look at TikTok through the lens of national security in order to view it as a cybersecurity threat,” Vasko said.
TikTok moving away from an app for dancing and toward more political and social activism related content creates an opportunity for intervention from China in American politics and social issues.
While students use TikTok for academic and social reasons, social media can also shape our reality according to Therese Woolzey, a Boise State lecturer on digital literacy. “The ban itself only bans TikTok on state-owned devices and on campus WiFi, so aside from increased cellular data rates, students are unlikely to be severely affected,” Woolzey said.