South Dakota Public Broadcasting deletes TikTok accounts following governor’s ban

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South Dakota Public Broadcasting was effectively banned from using TikTok last week after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed an executive order barring state employees from using the social media platform on state devices. 

The executive order prohibits state agencies and employees from downloading or accessing TikTok on state-owned or leased devices. In response, SDPB, which is operated by a state agency, deleted its TikTok account following the governor’s announcement, a station spokesperson told Current. The network also deleted a separate account for its show Music Matters.

Other state agencies have also deleted their TikTok accounts, including the Department of Tourism, which had more than 60,000 followers. 

A press release about the ban said that Noem, a Republican, made the decision “in response to the growing national security threat posed by TikTok due to its data gathering operations on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.” 

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified last month that the bureau has “national security concerns” about the platform, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance. Republican lawmakers last month called for a national ban on TikTok in the U.S. 

Julie Overgaard, SDPB executive director, told Current that her state’s ban has “little to no impact on us outside of rethinking our strategy around younger audiences.”

SDPB covered the governor’s ban online and on their public affairs program In the Moment but did not mention the impact on the station in its coverage.  

“I’m not seeing a ton of people who are impacted in the state of South Dakota,” In the Moment host Lori Walsh said on the show. “… It doesn’t seem like a huge disruption for state employees that I’m seeing.” 

Overgaard said she was “not completely caught off guard or surprised” by the ban. In her role as executive director, she also serves in senior leadership for the state’s Bureau of Information and Telecommunications. Bureau leaders had been discussing safety and security concerns about TikTok “as it relates to state government on the whole,” she said.

‘You’ve got to pivot’

SDPB has used TikTok sparingly and built a meager following, Overgaard said. The station started using TikTok more this fall after an “extensive strategic planning process” with Ted Krichels, former SVP of system development and media strategy at CPB, during which he discussed using the platform to reach new audiences, Overgaard said.

The station posted to its account about a dozen times, focusing on its public affairs television program South Dakota Focus. Its account had about 150 followers, Overgaard said. 

Public broadcasters haven’t adopted TikTok as widely as other popular social media platforms. But some stations have found creative ways to use it to attract new audiences. 

SDPB has a wide reach on Facebook, Overgaard said, but it “isn’t exactly the coolest thing for the 30-and-under crowd.” The station will pivot by allocating the “very limited resources” used for TikTok to other social media platforms, such as Instagram and YouTube.

YouTube has been especially popular as a platform for the station’s coverage of the fine arts and high-school sports, Overgaard said. Using YouTube “meets the same strategic goal [as TikTok] at the end of the day,” she said.

Overgaard doesn’t see the ban as compromising SDPB’s social media strategy to reach younger audiences. “There’s plenty of things worth falling on your sword for public broadcasting, but that’s got to be a TV or radio thing, not a TikTok thing,” Overgaard said.

“This just doesn’t even make the top 20 list of … things I’m concerned about or things I’d be willing to fight for,” she added. 

For state departments that can no longer use TikTok, “it’s not like all is lost” because Instagram and other video platforms also reach a younger demographic, said Marina Hendricks, an assistant professor at South Dakota State University who teaches social media strategy. She also pointed out that social media platforms often come and go.  

“It’s just you’ve got to pivot, and you need to do it sooner rather than later,” Hendricks said.

Nebraska’s governor enacted a similar ban on TikTok for state employees in 2020. The decision did not affect Nebraska Public Media, however, because the station employees who manage its social media are not state employees, according to Eric Martin, a social media strategist at the station. 

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