Back in December, South Carolina joined a growing number of states in banning the popular social media app TikTok on any state government devices. Came straight from the governor. The ban comes due to concerns about TikTok user data being provided to the Chinese government, raising serious security and data privacy concerns. Calls to ban TikTok gained steam after FBI Director Christopher Wray declared the app to be a national security risk in November.
Now you may be wondering what the hell any of this has to do with us over at little ol’ Clemson, and that’s reasonable. At first glance this seems more like a matter of policy. But where we get caught is that Clemson is a public school, we answer to the Governor. And Clemson, institutionally, loves to post.
We have been a leader in using social media to recruit both athletes and regular students to campus. Remember that time Dave Doeren accused the Tigers of cheating because we had laptops posting gifs to twitter on the sidelines? We’ve been online. Not ‘we’ as in this blog, ‘we’ as in Clemson. There’s infrastructure dedicated to social media in Cooper Library. Short of putting someone to live tweet from the clock tower at Old Main, the University could not possibly be more “in” when it comes to social media. It is part of the marketing plan for the university overall, much like the athletics program.
Yes, having an official university TikTok account is kind of stupid. So was the Twitter. So was the Instagram. We crossed the stupid rubicon ages ago. Do you know teenagers? I say this endearingly, but they are also kind of stupid. There is a hard limit on how high minded of an intellectual exercise recruiting them is going to be.
For lack of a better way to put it, colleges are going to continue doing “stupid” things on social media because those stupid things work. Kids are on TikTok in huge numbers, colleges recruit on every other major social media platform, this cat was out of the bag before official responses were ready. Now everyone is backing away slowly and trying to avoid an incident. Social media influencers working with colleges is nothing new. TikTok sponsors some college athletes directly, and many more have monetized NIL deals based on TikTok following. Some Clemson athletes have hundreds of thousands of followers on the app.
The TikTok pages, both the official university account and especially the official football team account, do numbers. They are serious extensions of Clemson’s brand. Both accounts will likely cease to operate sometime soon. It’s feasible to run a TikTok account from private devices. IPTAY can afford the computers. But I just cannot conceive of a world where a public school fights the Governor over this, much less the FBI. The juice isn’t going to be worth the squeeze. People making these decisions have careers.
I find it fascinating that at some point years ago someone at Clemson made an account on some app they probably poorly understood, and now, for reasons that have nothing to do with Clemson, that account has got to go. Imagine being the poor soul assigned to explain any of this to Dabo.
I don’t really have a takeaway here besides “look at this, it’s crazy and it’s happening” but I think it’s noteworthy that this is likely going to happen to public schools across the country, as bipartisan consensus seems to be growing against keeping TikTok on government devices. And finally I think it’s very funny someone is still going to be dumb enough to get caught with TikTok on their work phone eventually. I just do not bet on college coaches having an understanding of operational security or discretion after the Hugh Freeze saga.