Category Archives: Social Media

Texas TikTok Ban Challenged By Lawsuit From University Study

A coalition representing faculty at Texas public universities is suing Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials over the state’s ban on TikTok on government-issued devices, effective next year, NBC News reported. The ban, they say in the lawsuit, will prevent faculty members from using the platform to teach and conduct research in an academic capacity.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday, by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, a free speech advocacy group, on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, a organization that advocates for research on technology’s impact on society.

“Banning public university faculty from studying and teaching with TikTok is not a sensible or constitutional response to concerns about data-collection and disinformation,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, in a press release.

NBC News also reported that that TikTok was banned from federal government-owned or issued devices in December 2022, with some exceptions, in the wake of growing security concerns over claims of Chinese government surveillance through the app.

According to NBC News, the app has been under scrutiny from lawmakers on a federal level. In May, Montana became the first state to ban TikTok from operating in the state.

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University posted a press release that includes the following:

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed suit today on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research asserting that Texas’s TikTok ban, initially imposed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott last year, violates the First Amendment. The ban requires all state agencies, including public universities, to bar employees from downloading or using TikTok on state-owned or -issued devices or networks, as well as on personal devices used to conduct state business. The lawsuit challenges the ban’s application to public university faculty, asserting that it comprises academic freedom and impedes vital research.

“Banning public university faculty from studying and teaching with TikTok is not a sensible or constitutional response to concerns about data-collection and disinformation,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Texas mush pursue its objectives with tools that don’t impose such a heavy burden on First Amendment rights. Privacy legislation would be a good place to start.”

Engadget reported that the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed the lawsuit in the name of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, an academic research advocacy group the Texas professors are members of. The lawsuit names Governor Greg Abbott and 14 other state and public education officials as defendants. “The government’s authority to control their research and teaching… cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny,” the complaint says.

According to Engadget, one example cited by the plaintiffs is Jacqueline Vickery, Associate Professor in the Department of Media Arts at the University of North Texas, who studies and teaches how young people use social media for expression and political organizing. “The ban has forced her to suspend research projects and change her research agenda, alter her teaching methodology, and eliminate course materials,” the complaint reads. “It has also undermined her ability to respond to student questions and to review the work of other researchers, including as part of the peer-review process.”

Personally, I wonder how many states are going to ban TikTok from the phones of their Senators and Congresspeople. To me, I think that the educators who are using TikTok for research should not be prevented from continuing their study.

Twitter Traffic ‘Tanking’ As Meta’s Threads Hits 100 Million Users

User traffic on Twitter has slowed since the launch of Meta’s text-based platform, Threads, which has already surpassed 100 million sign-ups since its debut last week, NBC News reported.

Threads announced in the U.S. on Wednesday and is being touted by Meta executives like Instagram chief Adam Mosseri as a more positive “public square” for communities “that never really embraced Twitter.” So far, users seem to be on board.

“Threads reached 100 million sign ups over the weekend. That’s mostly organic demand and we haven’t even turned on many promotions yet. Can’t believe it’s only been 5 days!” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post Monday.

According to Similarweb, a data company that specializes in web analytics, web traffic to Twitter was down 5% for the first two full days Threads was generally available compared with the previous week. The company said Twitter’s web traffic is down 11% compared with the same days in 2022.

Twitter responded to CNBC’s request for comment with an automated response. Meta didn’t offer additional comment beyond Zuckerberg’s post.

The booming growth on Threads is helped by the fact that it is tied to an existing social network, Meta’s Instagram. Users can sign up with their existing handles on Instagram and are able to retain some of their following others sign up for the app.

The Guardian wrote that Twitter’s website traffic is “tanking” according to the chief of internet services company Cloudflare, amid signs users are migrating to alternative platforms such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.

According to The Guardian, on Sunday, Matthew Prince posted a graph from Cloudflare’s ranking of the most popular websites in the world showing Twitter has been in decline since the start of 2023, not long after Elon Musk took over the platform.

The graph shows a significant drop in Cloudflare’s domain server ranking for Twitter in mid-2023 coincided with unpopular changes Musk made to the site, and the launch of Meta-owned rival platform Threads.

Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said in a post on Threads that he believes the toxicity of Twitter – which is purported to have 250 million users – has kept the site from being successful.

While Thread aims to be a “kinder” place, research form Media Matters showed “within 24 hours of Threads’ release, right-wing and fringe figures signed up for the platform.”

According to The Guardian, some far-right accounts are testing the platform’s moderation – which adopts the same rules as Facebook and Instagram – in attempts to get banned as a badge of honor.

Personally, I’m not thrilled with Twitter anymore. That said, I’m also not interesting in jumping over to Threads or Bluesky. My “happy place” is over on Mastodon, in a server that has incredibly good moderators.

Snapchat Adds Linktree-In-Bio Feature

Snap announced today that it is rolling out an integration with the link-in-bio tool Linktree to let people show off their work and other profiles on Snapchat, TechCrunch reported. The social network is late to allow links in the profiles of creators. Until now, it only allowed brands and Snap Stars – the biggest creators who are part of a special program – to include links.

Originally announced in April, the partnership will now allow anyone with a public profile to include links to their Linktree profile. Snap allows any user over 18 to create a public profile.

According to TechCrunch, Snapchat users can head to their public profile, click edit and select “Website or Linktree” to include their Linktree (or any other) URL. This allows users to include any other URL as well. However, Linktree is giving Snapchat profiles better visibility on its service.

With this integration, TechCrunch reported, Linktree is also offering three months of Linktree Pro. Premium subscriptions include extra features like email and phone number collection, embedding the latest tweets and YouTube videos and NFT lock.

In the wake of Instagram effectively killing its reliance on Linktree, the social media landing page service has found a new titan to partner with. Snap and Linktree are partnering to bring the service to Snapchat profiles, Gizmodo reported.

According to Gizmodo, Linktree was once synonymous with Instagram profiles as influencers everywhere would tout a simple “Link in bio!” In their post captions. Instagram users could always add a single link to their bios, and Linktree was the best solution for presenting followers with a repository of different destinations, including other social media platforms.

However, in April, the Meta-owned social media platform revealed that it would be increasing the number of links users could add to their bio to five, effectively negating the need for Linktree. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a broadcast channel at the time of release that upping the number of links in user bios was one of the most requested features Instagram had seen.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Snap’s efforts to lure creators and their followers back to its platform show early signs of traction, enticing popular internet personalities with a slice of the ad revenue their content generates.

The company behind the social-media app Snapchat – which previously lost creators after cutting a big payout program – started testing a new program last year that allows participants to earn a portion of revenue from the ads shown between their posts.

The new revenue-sharing incentive, in which creators who reach certain requirements are considered for Snap Star status, opened up to all eligible users in April and has several thousand creators in it, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The program is part of a broader effort to reverse Snap’s declining sales. The company, led by Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel, has been hurt by declining user engagement and a weakened advertising business caused in part by Apple privacy policy changes the have made it harder to track the performance of some ad campaigns. Snap’s stock has fallen almost 23% fore the past year.

In my opinion, I think that creators should decide for themselves about which social media platform is going to financially benefit them the most. That said, Snapchat has cut a big payout program in the past. Creators should consider that before going all-in on Snapchat.

Montana Lawmakers Approve Statewide Ban on TikTok

Montana lawmakers on Friday approved a first-of-its-kind bill to ban TikTok across the state, setting the state for future court battles that could determine the fate of the popular, Chinese-owned social-media app in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Montana House voted 54-43 to send the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. The governor’s office declined to say whether he would sign the bill but noted Mr. Gianforte had previously banned TikTok on government-issued devices and urged the state university system to do the same.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the bill said the ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. It would prohibit TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., from operating within the state, and would also bar app stores from offering TikTok within the state. It would fine any entity violating this law $10,000 per violation. It is unclear how some elements of the legislation would be enforced.

Once the governor receives the bill, he has 10 days to act on it before it automatically becomes law.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the bill’s authors ahead of the vote said they expect legal challenges that could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court should Mr. Gianforte sign the legislation.

Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill amounts to censorship and violates free-speech rights protected under the First Amendment.

NPR reported that Montana has become the first state to approve a bill that would ban TikTok over the possibility that the Chinese government could request Americans’ data from the widely popular video-streaming app.

The GOP-controlled Montana House of Representatives sent the bill on Friday to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who can now sign the measure into law. If enacted, the ban in the state would not start until January 2024.

According to NPR, a federal court challenge from TikTok is expected before then, likely teeing up a legal brawl that supporters of the law in Montana say could eventually wind up in front of the Supreme Court.

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said the bill’s backers have admitted that there is “no feasible plan” for putting the TikTok ban in place, since blocking downloads of apps on any one individual state would be almost impossible to enforce. Oberwetter said the bill represents the censorship of Montanans’ voices.

The ACLU, which has called the move a violation of free speech rights that “would set an alarming precedent for excessive government control over how Montanans use the internet.”

Gizmodo reported that by approving the nation’s first TikTok ban, Montana may have just given a green light to Republican lawmakers across the country to push forward with their own copycat bills. If that happens, TikTok may have no choice but to agree to a forced spinoff of its US business currently favored by the Biden Administration.

Personally, I think this whole thing is a mess. It seems impossible for app stores to exclude TikTok from people who live in Montana. There is no way to be certain what the Supreme Court would have to say about statewide TikTok bans. This self-made problem seems unsolvable.

Parler Temporarily Shuts Down

Parler, a social network that was popularized by supporters of former President Donald Trump, has been sold to a buyer that has temporarily shut it down, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Parent company Parliament Technologies Inc. said it has sold Parler to digital-media company Starboard, months after an acquisition agreement with rapper Kanye West fall apart. The platform went offline on Friday while Starboard, which recently changed its name from Olympic Media, developed a plan to launch a revamped version of the site.

“It’s going to take a breath of fresh air,” said Ryan Coyne, chief executive officer and founder of Starboard, which owns conservative-leaning news sites such as American Wire News and BizPac Review.

According to The Wall Street Journal, last year Parliament set out to sell Parler and it wanted to focus on providing cloud and other infrastructure services to online businesses at risk of being forced off the internet for controversial content. In October, Parliament said it entered into an agreement to be bought by Mr. West, who now legally goes by Ye, but the deal ended weeks later, after the rapper ran into financial difficulties.

Engadget reported that months after Ye dropped his bid, Parler has a new owner… and is out of commission for the time being. Starboard, the owner of pro-conservative news outlets like American Wire News, has shut down Parler on a temporary but indefinite basis after completing its acquisition of the social network from Parliament Technologies.

Starboard posted the following on the Parler website (after shutting down Parler itself):

Alexandria, VA – April 14, 2023 – Starboard (Formerly, Olympic Media) announced today that it has concluded the acquisition of Parler, the world’s pioneering uncancelable free speech platform.

No reasonable person believes that a Twitter clone just for conservatives is a viable business any more. By refocusing on the cloud and IT infrastructure space George Farmer has done an exceptional job at successfully leading Parliament into a critically important industry where it has already begun to excel.

Starboard is the perfect home for the Parler brand and its longtime loyal users. “Parler’s large user base and additional strategic assets represent an enormous opportunity for Starboard to continue to build aggressively our media and publishing business. The team at Parler has built an exceptional audience and we look forward to integrating that audience across all of our existing platforms.” said Ryan Coyne, CEO of Starboard.

While the Parler app as it currently constituted will be pulled down from operation to undergo a strategic assessment, we at Starboard see tremendous opportunities across multiple sectors to continue to serve marginalized or even outright censored communities – building a home of them away from the ad-hoc regulatory hand of platforms that hate them…”

Personally, I’m not quite sure what to think about Starboard’s announcement about it’s plans for Parler. The company claims to “continue to serve marginalized people”. But I cannot help but wonder if the “marginalized” people will mostly be the same ones who were on Parler before the app was shut down.

Montana Plans To Ban TikTok

Lawmakers in Washington are pushing for an outright ban of TikTok on American soil. Montana might beat them to it, The New York Times reported.

The state’s legislature is further along than any other body in the United States to passing a Ban of the popular Chinese-owned video app, which has faced scrutiny for whether it is handling sensitive data about Americans to Beijing. A Montana bill to block the app was introduced in February, and the State Senate approved it last month. The State House, where the bill has a strong chance of passing after two more votes, is scheduled to consider it on Thursday.

According to The New York Times, the proposal has encountered obstacles. A major internet provider said it could not block TikTok in Montana, prompting lawmakers to rewrite the legislation. A trade group funded by Apple and Google, which operate the app stores that would be forbidden to carry the app, also declared that it was impossible for the companies to prevent access to TikTok in a single state.

The New York Times also reported that TikTok has pushed its users to oppose the legislation by calling and emailing Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gianforte said he would “carefully consider any bill the Legislature sends to his desk” and noted that he had already banned TikTok on state devices.

The fight in Montana is a preview of what the United States might confront at a national level if lawmakers or the White House tries to enact a nationwide ban of TikTok. Even if legislation disallowing the app is passed, The New York Times wrote, carrying out a ban is technologically difficult and would invoke companies across the digital economy.

Montana State Representative, Zooey Zephyr, a Democrat, said in an interview that it was possible that TikTok users could disguise their location to maintain access to the app even after a ban, which could also be hard to enforce in border towns where internet connections may involve cellular towers in another state.

NBC News reported that leading human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long been critical of the Chinese government and its policies. But the groups are lining up against a proposed U.S. TikTok ban, despite the fact that the app’s parent company is Chinese, saying that eliminating a major platform for public expression won’t fix Beijing’s civil rights record or secure American’s privacy.

According to NBC News, the American Civil Liberties Union has used their TikTok account to answer users’ questions about the proposed ban and urged them to reach out to members of Congress to protest HR 1153, a House bill that would impose new restrictions on TikTok and other social media companies around how Americans’ personal data is handled.

In a Pew survey released last week, the largest share, 46%, of young Americans ages 18 to 29 opposed a ban. Just 29% of that demographic said they supported a ban and 24% weren’t sure. By comparison, roughly half of U.S. adults overall said they wanted TikTok banned, with 22% opposed and 28% undecided.

Personally, I don’t use TikTok. However, it is clear that many other people – especially young people – do use it. I was surprised to see that various human rights organizations are in favor of preventing a ban on TikTok, considering that the app is made by a Chinese company.

European Commission Staff Banned From Using TikTok

The European Commission posted a press release titled: “Commission strengthens cybersecurity and suspends the use of TikTok on its corporate devices”. From the press release:

“To increase its cybersecurity, the Commission’s Corporate Management Board has decided to suspend the use of the TikTok application on its corporate devices and on personal devices enrolled in the Commission mobile device service. The measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyber-attacks against the corporate environment of the Commission. The security developments of other social media platforms will also be kept under constant review.

“The measure is in line with Commission strict internal cybersecurity policies for use of mobile devices for work-related communications. It complements long-standing Commission advice to staff to apply best practices when using social media platforms and keep high-level of cyber awareness in their daily work.

“The Commission is committed to ensuring that its staff is well protected against increasing cyber threats and incidents. It is, therefore, our duty to respond as early as possible to potential cyber alerts.

“Today’s suspension is an internal corporate decision which is strictly limited to the use of devices enrolled in its mobile service.”

In an unprecedented move, the European Commission has banned staff from using the Chinese social media app TikTok over security concerns, in the latest example of growing strains between Beijing and the West, Politico reported.

According to Politico, western governments are increasingly alarmed by evidence that Chinese technology companies assist the Communist Party and its intelligence services in gathering vast amounts of data all over the world – with a particular focus on high-value political and security targets.

A senior official told Politico that all staff were ordered on Thursday morning to remove TikTok from their official devices and that they must also remove the app from their personal devices if they have any work-related apps installed.

Alternatively, the staff member can delete work-related apps from their personal phones if they insist on keeping TikTok.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the European Commission has banned its staff from using the TikTok app on their work-issued devices from March 15 because of cybersecurity concerns, widening across the Atlantic a patchwork of bans affecting U.S. officials.

The move, The Wall Street Journal reported, would affect thousands of employees of the European Union’s top executive body, comes as officials in Europe and the U.S. scrutinize TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., over security concerns.

A commission spokeswoman said staff were told to remove TikTok if it was installed on their work devices. Personal devices that have work-related apps, such a a professional email app, were also banned from having TikTok, she said. The decision was made by the commission’s corporate management board.

It is unclear to me why anyone would want to put apps like TikTok onto their work-related devices. The European Commission has the authority to require its staff to remove TikTok (and potentially other social media apps) off of their work-phones. I can see why the Commission is concerned about security risks from apps that typically appear to be entertaining.