The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW bridge talks TikTok ban on campus

4 min read
Club members sitting around the table with computers and papers, smiling at the camera.

UMW Bridge aims to “reduce political divisions at UMW” and engage students in constructive dialogue. | Amanda Sheward, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

On July 1, 2023, the Virginia Executive Order No. 24 to ban TikTok on state government devices and wireless Wi-Fi networks went into effect. This included UMW’s on-campus networks, which are UMW, UMW Guest and UMW-Secure; however, it did not affect the APOGEE network that on-campus students utilize. On Feb. 21, Bridge UMW held a moderated discussion about the ban.

According to the Bridge UMW Instagram page, the organization aims to “reduce political divisions at UMW” and engage students in constructive dialogue. Carlos Nunes, the president of Bridge UMW and a junior political science major, wants meetings to be a safe environment for students to talk about difficult topics.  

The Executive Order that banned TikTok and WeChat—as well as other apps developed by ByteDance Limited and Tencent Holdings Limited—sought to safeguard data and ensure cybersecurity on state devices and networks. 

According to the Executive Order, “Applications such as TikTok and WeChat provide foreign governments, such as the Chinese Communist Party, with the potential to gain access to the information stored on mobile devices, including location services and browsing history.” 

In a Dec. 16, 2022 press release announcing the ban, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said that these apps in question pose “a threat to national security, the intelligence community, and the personal privacy of every single American.” 

According to a campus-wide email sent on June 20, 2023 from Executive Director of University Communications Amy Jessee, all University-affiliated TikTok accounts, such as those run by UMW Admissions and Athletics, had to cease activity effective July 1, 2023. 

However, many students feel that the ban was not effective and that their personal use was being targeted. Nevertheless, students have found ways to circumvent the ban to access TikTok, as the privately managed APOGEE network does not block the app like the UMW and UMW Guest networks do. Students can also use their cellular data to browse the app on campus. 

Because students can still access TikTok, the members of Bridge UMW considered whether the ban on TikTok stopped students from using the app as well as the effectiveness of the Executive Order. 

Junior political science major Gabby Lyon commented that the ban has not prevented students from going on TikTok. 

“If your goal is to not have individual information sold, then a campus-wide ban is not going to prevent individuals from using it,” said Lyon. “Just because we can’t use it on Wi-Fi doesn’t mean we can’t click two buttons and turn off our Wi-Fi and use our data.” 

Sophia Sirks, a senior studio art and English double major, questioned Virginia’s intentions behind the ban because students can still use TikTok, just not on certain networks.

“I think the ban is kind of silly because it doesn’t seem to be actually stopping students from using it. And it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of solid evidence for why it should be banned,” said Sirks

Kerrin Bulpett, the secretary of Bridge UMW and a senior political science major from Rhode Island, explained that she didn’t understand the ban at first. 

“When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was on individuals rather than college campuses,” she said. “Being an out-of-state student, I think it’s really interesting because there’s no such bans where I’m from.” 

According to Bulpett, the ban does not solve the overarching issues that inspired it, as individuals can still access these apps. 

“If [TikTok is] banned on college campuses, but the problem is individual information, this ban is not actually solving this problem at all,” she said. 

Toward the end of the meeting, the club discussed how other apps gather or display important user information. For example, on Snapchat, someone’s location is visible on Snap Maps unless the user has manually turned off their location on the app. Additionally, BeReal sends users a notification at a certain time that day to take a photo on both sides of the cameras and post them. These settings and usages present concern because someone can know what the other person is doing at that exact time of day. 

Relatedly, earlier this year, Jay Leftwich, a Republican Virginia House of Delegates member introduced a bill that would prohibit TikTok from being available to minors in the Commonwealth. The bill failed in early February, but according to the Associated Press, Youngkin supports the notion of the legislation. 

Bridge UMW is the local chapter of Bridge USA, a national organization whose core values are viewpoint diversity, constructive dialogue and solution-oriented politics—according to their website. In Virginia, there are chapters at Christopher Newport University, the University of Virginia, George Mason University and the University of Mary Washington.