Montana is the first state to enact a ban on TikTok; Law likely to be challenged

Helena, Mont. • Montana became the first U.S. state to enact a total ban on TikTok on Wednesday, when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law a measure that goes farther than attempts by any other state to restrict the social media app, which is owned by a Chinese tech company .

The measure, set to take effect on January 1, 2024, is expected to face legal challenges and will serve as the testing ground for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned.

“Today, Montana is taking the strongest measures of any state to protect the private data and sensitive personal information of Montana residents from exploitation by the Chinese Communist Party,” Gianforte said in a statement.

TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter argued that the law violates people’s First Amendment rights and is unlawful. She declined to say whether the company will file a lawsuit.

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue to use TikTok to express themselves, make a living, and find community while we continue to work to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” Oberwetter said in one Explanation.

Montana ACLU political director Keegan Medrano said lawmakers “trampled the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment.” ”

Some lawmakers, the FBI, and other agency officials fear that ByteDance’s video-sharing app could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information about American citizens or to spread pro-Beijing misinformation that influences the public could. TikTok says none of this ever happened.

When Montana banned the app on state-owned devices in late December, Gianforte said TikTok posed a “significant risk” to sensitive state data. More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have similar bans.

On Wednesday, Gianforte also announced that effective June 1, he would ban the use of all social media applications related to foreign adversaries on state-owned equipment and for state-owned companies in Montana. Apps he listed include WeChat, whose parent company is headquartered in China; and Telegram Messenger, which was founded in Russia.

The law, drafted by the Attorney General’s Office, passed smoothly through the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature.

Gianforte wanted to expand the TikTok bill to apps linked to foreign opponents, but lawmakers only sent him the bill after the session ended, so he couldn’t propose changes.

Montana’s new law bans downloading TikTok in the state and fines any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone is “offered the opportunity.” access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

Opponents say the measure is government overreach and say Montana residents could easily circumvent the ban by using a virtual private network, a service that protects internet users by encrypting their traffic and preventing others from enjoying their web browsing observe. Montana state officials say geofencing technology is being used on online sports gambling apps, which are disabled in states where online gambling is illegal.

TikTok, which has said it has a plan to protect US users, has vowed to fight back the ban, as have small business owners who said they use the app for advertising to grow their business and reach more customers .

The app’s fun, goofy videos and ease of use have made it hugely popular, and US tech giants like Snapchat and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, see it as a threat to competitors.

Though many Montana lawmakers were excited about a ban, experts closely following the bill said the state will likely need to defend the legislation in court.

NetChoice, a trade group whose members include Google and TikTok, called the bill unconstitutional.

“This is a clear violation of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from barring Americans from accessing constitutionally protected expressions of opinion online through websites or apps,” said Carl Szabo, who serves as the group’s vice president and general counsel, in a statement.

Those responsible also have to take criticism from interest groups and TikTok users who do not want their favorite app to be taken away from them. TikTok has recruited so-called influencers and small businesses to use the platform to avoid a ban. But others, who have not participated in an official campaign coordinated by the company, also have concerns about what lawmakers are doing.

Adam Botkin, a former football player and recent University of Montana graduate student, said it was a scary time for him as a content creator in Montana. The 22-year-old has nearly 170,000 followers on TikTok, where he mostly posts short videos of himself performing soccer kicks.

He says he sometimes makes “tens of thousands” of dollars a month from brands promoting their products on his social media accounts, including Instagram, where he has around 44,000 followers.

Botkin says most of his income comes from Instagram, which is seen as more lucrative for content creators. But he needs to grow his following on this and other platforms to achieve the same level of exposure as he has on TikTok. He says he’s trying and won’t try to circumvent the TikTok ban by using a VPN.

“You have to adapt and evolve with the way things are going,” Botkin said. “So if I have to adapt and change clothes, I will adapt.”

Rumors of a TikTok ban have been around since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump tried to ban the company from operating in the US through an executive order, but it was stopped in federal courts. President Joe Biden’s administration initially shelved those plans, but recently threatened to ban the app if the company’s Chinese owners don’t sell their shares.

TikTok doesn’t want either option and has clamored for proof that it’s free from any interference from the Chinese government. She’s also promoting a data security plan she calls “Project Texas” to allay concerns from bipartisan parties in Washington.

At the same time, some lawmakers have become allies, arguing that efforts to limit data collection practices must involve all social media companies, not just one. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked a bill in March that would ban TikTok statewide, saying such a move would be unconstitutional and anger the millions of voters who use the app.

The TikTok ban in Montana also comes amid a growing movement to limit children’s social media use and, in some cases, impose bans. Several bills circulating in Congress aim to address this issue, including one that would ban all children under the age of 13 from using social media and would require a guardian’s permission for users under the age of 18 to create an account.

Some states, like Utah and Arkansas, have already passed laws that would make social media use dependent on parental consent, and similar laws are in the works in other states. Last year, California enacted a law that would require companies to improve children’s privacy practices and provide them with the highest privacy settings.

Justin Scaccy

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