TikTok’s ban on state devices and networks in Texas was challenged by First Amendment lawyers on Thursday, who said the law violated the Constitution by limiting research and teaching at public universities.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, whose members include Texas college professors who say their work was compromised after they lost access to TikTok on campus Wi -Fi and computers provided by the university.
The suit offers a glimpse into the true impact of bans targeting TikTok and the mounting legal pushback that has accompanied the efforts. Universities in more than 20 states have banned TikTok in some form, according to the institute, based on new guidelines from lawmakers who say TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, poses a threat to national security.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, which works on free speech cases pro bono, wants Texas and other states to exempt university professors from the bans.
“The Supreme Court has characterized academic freedom as a special First Amendment concern,” said Ramya Krishnan, an attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “With so many Americans on TikTok, it is important that researchers study the impact of this platform on public discourse and society at large.”
The representatives for Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced the ban in Texas in December, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit said that Jacqueline Vickery, an associate professor at the University of North Texas and a digital media scholar, was forced to “suspend research projects and change her research agenda, change her teaching methods and remove the material of course” because of the ban.
Ms. Vickery had previously collected and analyzed a large number of TikTok videos for her work, focusing on how young people use digital and social media for informal learning and activism, but she can no longer do so. on his university-owned computers or internet networks, according to the suit. The Texas ban also appears to extend to his personal cellphone based on his use of university email and other apps there, the lawsuit said.
said Ms. Vickery in an interview that he has not had access to TikTok since the university returned from winter break, even for an assignment where he wanted his students to read the privacy terms on the TikTok site. The effect of the ban on his classes and research is “really difficult,” especially since he doesn’t have a personal laptop, he said.
“It’s not just an app that young people use for fun, but there’s a whole lot of research going on and through the site as well as a whole lot of teaching,” Ms. Vickery. “It seems like the ban didn’t really consider the ramifications of that.”
Ms. Vickery is part of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, a group of academics, civil society researchers and journalists formed last year to promote “the right to study the impact of technology on society.”
The question of whether the ban on TikTok violates free speech rights has also been raised in two lawsuits in Montana, both funded by the company. The state has a first-of-its-kind state ban of TikTok that will take effect on January 1. The company is not involved in the Texas lawsuit.