Democrats and Republicans in the Louisiana House of Representatives agree, unanimously, on at least one thing: It's time to ban TikTok.
By a 102-0 vote, representatives approved House Bill 361 by Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Marksville, putting House members on record that they want to go beyond steps already taken by Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Gov. John Bel Edwards.
In December, Ardoin prohibited Department of State employees from using TikTok on state-issued devices. With the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne likewise banned TikTok on state-owned telephones, laptops and even personal devices connected to state Wi-Fi.
Want to use TikTok, state employees? Do it on your mobile hot spot or at home.
And it's not just the United States worrying about TikTok. Other Western nations have taken similar action. They cite China's security laws that require Chinese companies to provide data on app users if the government thinks it is necessary.
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center study, two-thirds of America's teenagers aged 13-17 use TikTok, so banning it constitutes a big hit on their application of choice. TikTok's popularity among teens even caught the attention of colleges and universities, which have used the app to recruit high schoolers.
Just a few days ago, Montana become the first state to pass a law banning TikTok. It's been described as a total ban. It is not.
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill that he said would protect Montanans' private information from being collected by the app's Chinese corporate owner. The law uses stiff fines to show that Montana means business. It would ban TikTok downloads and TikTok on app sites — such as those on Apple, Google and Android devices.
Those and similar "entities" would be fined $10,000 a day each time a Montana resident accesses TikTok there. The fines would quickly add up. Most businesses would balk about that kind of financial exposure. That's Montana's point, it seems: Don't use TikTok.
But the law has loopholes. It doesn't apply to internet providers like AT&T, a company that successfully lobbied for a carveout. The law doesn't apply to individual TikTok users, either.
That doesn't sound at all like the total ban that Montana is selling and that news media are parroting as true. Plus, companies affected by the law are likely to challenge it in court as unconstitutional.
In Louisiana, Deshotel wants to impose even tighter restrictions. His bill would ban TikTok on ALL state-owned devices and on state Wi-Fi. That would remove the app from state college and university Wi-Fi systems.
University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson estimated that more than half of the 90,000 students on the UL System's nine campuses use TikTok.
Deshotel's bill has a carveout for academic use of TikTok. It says education leaders can make school-by-school decisions for “legitimate scientific, educational or law enforcement purposes.”
Whew. That's good. We need academic freedom. I like local decision-making, too. But, with some of the recent threats to academic flexibility and freedom, I can't help but think about some parents demanding that a college professor stop using TikTok as part of a specific assignment or research.
Henderson knows that federal and state law enforcement officials have warned Americans about the Chinese TikTok data risk. "Still, no evidence has been provided to date that suggests this has occurred," he said.
Regarding First Amendment concerns, Henderson says Louisiana's approach is "reasonable and defensible. We will be able to implement it in a manner that protects state interests with minimal impact on individuals."
Now it's up to the state Senate to decide whether Louisiana should ban TikTok on state-funded college and university campuses.
We of a certain age may not understand it, but young folks get a kick out of creating and posting videos on TikTok. It's how many of them keep up with each other and with current events — and even deal with mental health issues.
Our much-older-than-teens lawmakers have started down a path that would significantly restrict a wildly popular communication tool among Louisiana's young people. As we limit the use of TikTok at state institutions — for good reasons — we have to think about other ways we can help young people connect with each other on social media.
Somebody watching these developments should quickly develop an American alternative to TikTok. Maybe one of our universities could make that happen — and generate lots of revenue for academia at the same time.