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Two months after UF discouraged use of TikTok, students remain on the social media platform

Mindless scrolling of trendy dance videos and other content on TikTok still entertains University of Florida dorm dwellers and others two months after the university released an email discouraging the use of the Chinese video hosting service.

“They can’t really force people to delete it,” freshman Jonah Sacher said. Sacher chose not to delete the app despite the university’s email.

With videos of dances, pranks, recipes and outfit inspiration littering the platform, TikTok is a major draw for people of all ages and interests. In 2021, TikTok had 86.9 million users in the United States, according to Statista data. About 26% of the United States population is on TikTok, but concerns over the security of user data on the popular app have grown.

TikTok’s extensive privacy webpage lists what may be collected from a user. Under “Image and Audio Information,” the TikTok webpage indicates that “We may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information as defined under U.S. laws, such as faceprints and voiceprints, from your User Content.”

On Jan. 12, the University of Florida sent out an email to all university students and staff discouraging the use of TikTok. In the email, UF Vice President and CIO, Elias Eldayrie, explained that TikTok is seen as a national security concern by experts.

The email referred to experts “pointing to the possibility that foreign governments may use TikTok to control data collection, influence TikTok's recommendation algorithm, and compromise personal devices.” Eldayrie’s email emphasized the importance of protecting university data and information, including research, academic records, and personal information.

Two months after the email was sent out, Broward Hall resident and UF freshman Adria Prapuolenis said she has not deleted the app and doesn't plan on deleting it. She said she first downloaded TikTok in middle school when the app was known as Musical.ly, and users could post short lip-syncing or dancing videos. In 2018, Musical.ly and TikTok merged to become a larger form of TikTok.

Prapuolenis said she feels like University of Florida students have turned the email into a joke and didn’t take it seriously.

“I just thought it was a little weird 'cause UF does have a TikTok, so if they really wanted to discourage it, they wouldn’t be posting on there,” Prapuolenis said.

While the university has not posted on the @uf TikTok account since Dec. 24, the account is still up for the public to see and has over 111,000 followers. Other university groups, including Greek life organizations and the College of Journalism and Communications, still have active TikTok accounts.

Another University of Florida student who uses TikTok regularly touched on the fact that TikTok may not be the only app using her data without her knowing.

“I feel like, if you’re going to use any social media, it’s important to understand your data is being sold regardless,” Broward Hall resident Erika Meya said.

She considers it a possibility that her data is always being used when she creates social media accounts. The sophomore said she first downloaded TikTok during the COVID-19 quarantine because she was bored, and she does not think the email was effective in convincing people to delete the popular app.

Other universities and colleges across the nation have taken similar actions against the use of TikTok. Arkansas Tech University, the University of Texas at Austin, Georgia College and the Montana University System, which includes 16 public institutions are some of the many institutions that have banned or discouraged TikTok.

On top of universities and colleges discouraging TikTok, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a Digital Bill of Rights to protect users’ privacy, minors on social media, and unfair censorship.

According to the Florida government website, “The proposal also bans the use of TikTok and other social media platforms with ties to China from all state government devices, and through internet services at colleges, universities, and public schools…” DeSantis’ bill would extend the university’s discouragement of the popular app to a ban of TikTok on university devices and networks.

Sarah Elmizadeh, a sophomore at UF, said she rarely goes on TikTok, so she was indifferent when she saw the email from the university. But she said she did not delete the app and isn’t necessarily planning on deleting it anytime soon. Elmizadeh said if she were a heavy TikTok user, then she would not have been happy about the email.

“If people want to use it, they should use it,” she said.

Lauren is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.