Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Jan. 12 directing the state's Chief Information Officer, James Weaver, and the North Carolina Department of Information Technology to develop a policy within 14 days that prohibits the use of TikTok and other potentially "high-risk applications" on state-owned devices.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the new rule will protect state information technology systems from cybersecurity risks.
“Cybersecurity professionals have identified TikTok and WeChat as high-risk applications due to their lack of sufficient privacy controls and connections to countries that sponsor or support cyber-attacks against the United States,” the release said.
TikTok is a popular social media platform that allows users to create and share short videos. The app has come under scrutiny for its potential cybersecurity risks, with some U.S. officials claiming the Chinese-owned company could be connected with the Chinese government — especially in regard to data collection.
Other government entities in the United States have also banned TikTok and WeChat on federal and state government information technology. Some universities have also banned the app.
The North Carolina Department of Information Technology Communications Officer Kelly Gardner said in an email that although the executive order does not apply to college students, young people should be aware of digital privacy issues.
“Many people think privacy is no longer important, or they believe it is a trade-off for convenience or some other benefit that a popular service or app might provide," Gardner said. "But that is not the case. Privacy is still very important."
TikTok itself denies that the app poses a cybersecurity risk. TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said in an email that many Americans enjoy making videos and accessing information on the platform. He said laws banning it are political in nature and do not address cybersecurity concerns.
“TikTok is loved by millions of Americans, and it is unfortunate that the many state agencies, offices, universities, student groups, and sports teams in those states will no longer be able to use TikTok to build communities and share information,” Brown said in an email.
Although Cooper signed the executive order recently, some North Carolina lawmakers expressed concern over TikTok’s security last year.
In December, N.C. Reps. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) both called for a ban of the app on state-issued devices, citing that they would initiate a bill on the matter if Cooper did not take action.
TikTok is particularly popular among young people, with just over 40 percent of its users being between the ages of 18 and 24, as of 2022.
In the wake of the executive order, UNC students expressed a varied set of opinions on the risks that TikTok poses.
UNC first-year Laurel Jennings makes “day-in-the-life” videos of herself on TikTok. She said she thinks the app is safe to use.
“I did worry about it when there was a lot of news going around and concern, but I guess that concern went away for me,” Jennings said.
Jennings said TikTok is valuable for young people because anyone can post and gain online attention, even if they are not a celebrity.
She added that if UNC banned TikTok from its official Wi-Fi network — as some other universities have done — she would continue using the app with cellular data.
Other UNC students are more concerned about whether or not the app is safe. UNC sophomore Jack McDermott said he does not use TikTok, citing concerns about it accessing his personal data.
“TikTok itself is a little bit of propaganda,” McDermott said.
He added that despite the security concerns, he thinks people should be able to make their own decisions about using the app and that many students would be upset if it were banned at UNC.
N.C. Rep. Renée Price (D-Caswell, Orange), said cybersecurity is an important policy consideration, particularly for local governments.
She said there are both positives and negatives to banning TikTok on state-issued devices.
“I do know that TikTok, in addition to being something that younger generations enjoy — and like anything, there's been some misuse of it — but I also know that people are using it to teach history,” Price said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.