AUSTIN, TX—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 compromises 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 must 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.”

The Coalition for Independent Technology Research is a group of academics, journalists, civil society researchers, and community scientists that works to advance, defend, and sustain the right to study the impact of technology on society. The coalition’s members include professors at public universities in Texas whose research and teaching have been compromised by the ban.  

“Like it or not, TikTok is an immensely popular communications platform, and its policies and practices are influencing culture and politics around the world,” said Dave Karpf, a Coalition for Independent Technology Research board member and associate professor in the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. “It’s important that scholars and researchers be able to study the platform and illuminate the risks associated with it. Ironically, Texas’s misguided ban is impeding our members from studying the very risks that Texas says it wants to address.”

Texas is not the only state to have enacted a TikTok ban of one kind or another. At least 35 states have banned TikTok on  state devices and networks. State university systems or universities in 20 states have banned TikTok on university devices, university networks, or both. Montana passed a ban in May 2023; two lawsuits have been filed challenging that law, one by TikTok and another by TikTok users.

The case filed today is notable in part because it concerns academic freedom, which Texas and a number of other states have been endeavoring to curtail in a variety of ways. For example, Texas has passed laws limiting tenure and banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, and is now considering a bill that would ban the teaching of critical race theory on public college campuses. The question of what protections the First Amendment affords to public university faculty is one the Supreme Court has not fully resolved.

“Texas’s TikTok ban is an assault on academic freedom, which is the lifeblood of every university and a central concern of the First Amendment,” said Ramya Krishnan, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “The court should make clear that Texas can’t shut down an important avenue of teaching and research at its public universities when there are far less intrusive measures that would secure its aims.”

Read today’s complaint here.

In addition to Jaffer and Krishnan, lawyers on the case include Stacy Livingston of the Knight Institute and Peter Steffensen of the First Amendment Clinic at SMU Dedman School of Law.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, [email protected]