By Ethan Minkoff
“I think my data is always being collected,” said one sophomore who took BOP’s April 2023 poll.
U.S. lawmakers have threatened banning the popular social media platform TikTok in recent weeks. There are concerns that ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, may have to disclose user data to the Chinese government or be coerced to either promote or conceal particular subjects in accordance with China’s preferences. A ban of TikTok has received bipartisan support and has gained serious momentum at both the state and national level.
The Brown Opinion Project decided to probe how receptive Brown undergraduates would be to such legislation in its April 2023 poll, asking if students supported or opposed the U.S. government banning TikTok.
Over one half (54.63%) of Brown undergraduate students surveyed responded that they opposed a ban of TikTok by the U.S. government. One sophomore who took the poll described the ban as “stupid.”
In contrast, 18.1% of Brown undergraduates reported that they were in favor of banning TikTok. Another sophomore commented that they were sympathetic to the ban because they believed that TikTok has the potential to invade both individual and American security.
Around one quarter (26.7%) of Brown students responded that they were unsure, many citing the complications and nuances inherent in a ban of such a popular app.
These findings were nearly opposite of a national poll conducted by Pew Research Center in March that posed the same question. According to this poll, around 50% of Americans supported banning TikTok, while only 22% opposed the ban. In both the national poll and the BOP poll, a similar share of respondents (28%) responded that they were unsure.
TikTok’s popularity among college students may have influenced the discrepancy between Pew’s findings and the Brown Opinion Project’s findings. Many Brown undergraduates who were interviewed noted that they spent several hours a day on the platform as a way to relax, making them more reluctant to part with the app. A student who was interviewed also indicated that perhaps Brown students “are more opposed to banning things in general.”
Views on TikTok interestingly varied between men and women: women were more likely to oppose a ban of TikTok (59%) than men (48%).
The data also varied when comparing those who could correctly name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and those who could not, another question asked by the Brown Opinion Project’s April poll. Nearly one half (46%) of those who supported a TikTok ban correctly identified that John G. Roberts serves as Chief Justice, contrasted with only 25% of those who opposed the ban. This may suggest that those who are more civically engaged and politically aware are more likely to support a ban of TikTok, as compared to those who are not as politically active.
Many students did not share the same level of concern as U.S. policymakers regarding TikTok’s threat on individual privacy, which has been the cornerstone of debates surrounding the app. One sophomore articulated that their “data is in threat no matter what I am doing on the Internet, whether that is Instagram or Twitter or online shopping … I think my data is always being collected, so why is it different if it’s TikTok? I don’t really care.”
Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its April 2023 poll April 11th-April 13th, collecting 704 total responses from Brown undergraduate students. The margin of error is 3.71% with 95% confidence.