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Florida universities ban TikTok on state-owned devices

Restrictions include SJR State College, UNF


Florida’s decision this week to immediately ban TikTok from its campus networks and college-owned devices is occurring amid broader bipartisan efforts in Florida’s Legislature to limit or prohibit students in public schools from using social media.

UF said it planned to start actively blocking use of TikTok and WeChat, an instant messaging app especially popular among Chinese students. Other universities – including University North Florida, St. Johns River State College, University of Florida, Florida State and University of Central Florida – already had similarly banned TikTok and WeChat, responding to a directive last week from the state’s Board of Governors calling the services a data security risk because their parent companies were based in China.

The latest bill moved through Florida’s Capitol to effectively ban TikTok for all public employers, including state and local government agencies, public schools, colleges and universities and more. It prohibits installing TikTok on a government-issued device or accessing TikTok over a government network, such as office or school Wi-Fi networks.

Meanwhile, other measures proposed by lawmakers would crack down on a broader number of social media services. One would require teachers to warn students about the social, emotional and physical effects of social media; prohibit students from using social media during classroom instruction; and require schools to block social media on their networks.

“These kids are walking around with a live digital hand grenade, and we’re not educating them on the safe use of it,” Burgess said.

The House voted 110-0 last week to pass a companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Yeager, a New Port Richey Republican.

Under those bills, classroom lessons would change based on grade level but cover kindergarten through 12th grade. Students below sixth grade would learn about internet safety, injury prevention and personal health. Lessons for older students would include how social media manipulates behavior, the spreading of misinformation and dating violence.

Students in high school would also learn how to use social media to their advantage with lessons on research skills, creating a digital resume and exploring career pathways.

Social media companies have long been the target of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature, which passed a bill DeSantis signed in 2021 requiring large social media companies to publish standards that described how they decided to “censor, deplatform and shadow ban.” It also allowed Florida residents to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they feel they were treated unfairly.

Federal courts overturned most parts of the law, saying it was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, and DeSantis has asked the Supreme Court to intercede.

Republicans’ efforts to crack down on social media platforms also are occurring amid the party’s efforts to improve its allure among young voters, who are the most active users on social media and who generally identify as progressives.

Another bill would require social media platforms to provide disclaimers of “additive features” and would prohibit schools from using social media for educational purposes.

When users log in, minors would have to be shown a disclaimer about how social media can be addictive and harmful to their mental health. It would also describe how the app might collect a user’s personal data “to further manipulate your viewable content,” according to the bill.

Large social media companies already have compliance statements, and having more disclaimers won’t protect children, said Chris Marchese, director of litigation for NetChoice, a trade association representing leading technology companies, including TikTok, Twitter, Google and Meta.

Marchese said educating children on risks would be more helpful than a disclaimer children could ignore. He said NetChoice supports social media safety lessons in schools but opposes banning social media for educational purposes.

Social media safety should be taught at all grade levels, said Jamie Kschonz, a parent and teacher at Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton. She said some of her special needs students could be vulnerable to dangerous situations on social media.

In an AP psychology class, Addison Barno, a junior at Freedom High in Tampa, was assigned to care for a pretend infant and post pictures of her pretending to feed it as updates on Instagram. Barno, 16, said the lesson interested her because she is an avid Instagram user.

Her high school already blocks social media during classroom hours, but Barno said students use virtual private networks that can bypass such blocks.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.