The TikTok ban on state-run devices and networks in Texas was challenged Thursday by First Amendment lawyers, who said the law violated the Constitution by limiting research and teaching at public universities.
The Knight Institute for the First Amendment 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 losing access to TikTok in the Campus Wi-Fi and university-issued computers.
The lawsuit offers a glimpse of the real-world effect of the bans targeting TikTok and the growing legal pushback that accompanies the efforts. Universities in more than 20 states have banned TikTok in some way, according to the institute, based on new rules 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 college 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 Institute for the First Amendment. “With so many Americans on TikTok, it’s important that researchers be able to study the impact this platform is having on public discourse and society at large.”
Representatives for Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced the Texas ban in December, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit says 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, alter her teaching methodology, and remove course material” because to the ban.
Previously, Ms. Vickery was able to collect and analyze a large number of TikTok videos for her work, which focuses on how young people use social and digital media for informal learning and activism, but she can no longer do it on computers. or computers owned by the university. Internet networks, on demand. The Texas ban also appears to extend to your personal cell phone based on your use of university email and other apps there, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Vickery said in an interview that she hadn’t had access to TikTok since the university returned from winter break, even for an assignment where she wanted her students to read the privacy terms on the TikTok site. The effect of the ban on her classes and research has been “really challenging,” particularly since she doesn’t have a personal laptop, she said.
“This is not just an app that young people use for fun, but there is a lot of research going on with and through the site, as well as a lot of teaching,” Ms. Vickery said. “It doesn’t seem like the ban really took the consequences of the drip into consideration.”
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 banning TikTok violates free speech rights has also been raised in two lawsuits in Montana, both funded by the company. The state has a statewide ban on TikTok, the first of its kind, which will go into effect on January 1. The company is not involved in the Texas lawsuit.