Florida government spent $30K on TikTok ads while calling app ‘security risk’

ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite publicly taking a hard stance against TikTok and calling the Chinese-based app a security risk, Florida’s government has simultaneously funneled tens of thousands of dollars toward the app’s parent company for advertisements.


The ads, in the form of sponsored posts showing up on users’ “For You” feeds, were distributed by Florida PrePaid, an agency with board members appointed by the governor and other senior state officials tasked with signing families up for college savings plans.

Since Feb. 1, Florida PrePaid has run at least two ads on the platform raising awareness about the open enrollment period that generated a combined nine million views. A spokeswoman said the total spend on the platform was $30,516.

The spokeswoman added the agency’s mission was to help families save for college. She said enrollments were up 7% over last year when TikTok was not a part of the agency’s advertising strategy.

“Since 1988, the Florida Prepaid College Board has helped more than 1.2 million families save for higher education, and more than 612,000 students have attended college using Prepaid Plans,” the spokeswoman wrote in response to WFTV’s questions.

Read: FBI: Don’t use public charging stations to charge your phone

The decision to utilize TikTok -- popular among teenagers, college students and young parents who may be thinking about saving for their child’s education -- contrasts with the positions Florida’s top leaders have taken as concerns about the platform grew.

In mid-February, Gov. DeSantis spoke in favor of his “Digital Bill of Rights,” at an event in which he also laid out his stance against all Chinese-influenced media.

“(China is) trying to inject as much garbage into this as possible,” he said. “Creates a huge security risk through our country… We don’t have state government using TikTok anymore.”

Gov. DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Read: UCF to block students from accessing TikTok from its networks over security concerns

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis also appoints a designee to the board, and has taken a similar stance. Monday, his staff emailed a simple response to WFTV’s inquiry.

“The CFO believes Florida Prepaid should end their relationship with TikTok,” Chief Communications Officer Devin Galetta wrote.

There is no evidence to suggest anyone other than Florida PrePaid staff knew about the advertising campaign, as the board approves a general marketing budget for the staff to work with.

Florida has also been moving to ban TikTok from government devices and college campus WiFi networks, forcing students to use their own data plans to watch videos on the app.

Read: TikTok fined $15.9M by UK watchdog over misuse of kids’ data

When told about Florida’s spending, students reacted with surprise, as well as a hint of irony.

“Going for the ban, but they’re also funding the app at the same time?” Kendal Asbury said. “That doesn’t really add up.”

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