Police are connecting with teens on TikTok — a ban would delete a useful tool

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would ban TikTok in the United States.

While such a ban on the short-form video-hosting app would anger millions of young fans, it would also upset an unlikely group of TikTok users: police departments.

The new law was introduced by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. If passed, the law would ban “all transactions by social media companies in or under the influence of China, Russia and several other countries of concern,” according to a press release.

The bill came after years of concern that the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok user data. But TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has claimed US user data is securely stored outside of China and is not available to Chinese officials.

Despite these security concerns, TikTok has become a valuable tool used by police departments across the country. The app has proved popular with law enforcement agencies for a variety of reasons. One of the most important uses for TikTok by police is public relations, especially for Gen Z, while another is rapid delivery of emergency messages.

Police cars and a TikTok logo
An undated archive photo shows New York City Police Department vehicles. The inset shows the logo of TikTok displayed on a tablet in Lille, France, on March 23, 2022. A TikTok ban, as recently proposed by lawmakers, could affect how police use the app as a public relations tool.
Photo by Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

“Police have used social media to ‘humanize’ themselves,” said Johnny Nhan, associate dean and professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Texas Christian University news week.

Nhan added, “For example, the Fort Worth Police Department saw a spike when a Star Wars-themed recruiting video went viral.

One of the most popular police agency TikTok accounts is one for the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia. Sergeant William Pickering Jr. told of the force news week that such platforms have shed light on the daily service of officers in their neighborhoods.

“Social media platforms like TikTok have enabled police departments from around the world to share a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who work hard and risk everything to serve their communities,” Pickering wrote in an email .

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office in Florida also enjoys a strong TikTok following. Sheriff Carmine Marceno also told about Lee news week on the importance of TikTok to reach the local community.

“By using the TikTok application, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has built a significant following,” Marceno said in an email. “I believe in being transparent on all aspects of shared information designed to benefit users of each platform. TikTok has proven valuable for reaching multiple demographics, much like the other social media we use.”

One thing police department spokesmen have made clear is that if a ban goes into effect, they will abide by the rule of law.

“If Congress determines that TikTok poses a threat to national security, we will support their decision and encourage our TikTok followers to follow us on our other social media platforms where we post similar content,” Pickering said .

Nhan said police departments already use Twitter primarily for emergency service information, so switching from TikTok for such messages would not be an issue. Echoing Pickering’s stance, he said departments would soon turn to other social media platforms.

“There’s just so much redundancy. she [police departments] will post the same on twitter. They will post the same thing on Facebook. They’ll just post it on Instagram,” Nhan said.

Nancy Perry, editor-in-chief of online law enforcement resource Police1, said news week that law enforcement agencies will feel the effects of a TikTok ban in other ways.

“TikTok has been an important tool for departments to show what it means to be a police officer, all the different job functions, and we’ve seen a lot of really great recruiting videos on TikTok,” she said, noting that recruiting continues to do so is going to be a big problem for the departments.

Overall, however, Perry doesn’t see much of an impact from a ban.

“I think it’s important to recognize that strong police departments that have really good social media accounts never put all their eggs in one basket,” Perry said. “You’ve always had a presence on different platforms.”

news week asked TikTok for a comment.

https://www.newsweek.com/police-are-connecting-youth-tiktok-ban-would-erase-useful-tool-1767542 Police are connecting with teens on TikTok — a ban would delete a useful tool

Rick Schindler

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