TikTok Content Creators Sue Montana Over Statewide Ban

May 19, 2023

Five TikTok content creators have filed a lawsuit aiming to overturn Montana’s statewide ban on the Chinese-owned video sharing app.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation Wednesday that made Montana the first state in the U.S. to impose a total ban on TikTok, though more than a dozen other states, Congress and the White House  have taken actions to ban the app on government devices.

The restrictions began after FBI Director Chris Wray in November warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations. 

The Montana law makes it illegal for app stores from Google and Apple to offer TikTok within the state. However it will not impose any penalties on consumers who use the app.

Upon its signing Gianforte said the law, which doesn’t take effect until January 1, would protect Montana residents’ private data and personal information from being harvested by the Chinese government.

The content creators’ lawsuit was filed in federal court the same day as Gianforte’s signing the law. Some Montana residents also argued in the complaint that the state doesn’t have authority over matters of national security. 

“The law takes the broadest possible approach to its objectives, restricting and banning the protected speech of all TikTok users in Montana to prevent the speculative and unsubstantiated possibility that the Chinese government might direct TikTok Inc., or its parent, to spy on some Montana users,” the lawsuit states.

Emily Flower, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice, responded by saying, “We expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law.”

Though TikTok has argued the statewide ban infringes upon the First Amendment, company spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter has declined to comment on the lawsuit, including whether TikTok aided in coordinating the complaint. 

However, a former executive for TikTok owner ByteDance has alleged that the app—which reportedly has more than 1 billion monthly active users in more than 150 countries worldwide, including a reported 150 million users in the U.S.—has served as a “propaganda tool” for the Chinese government, though ByteDance dismisses that claim as baseless. 

Some of the Montana plaintiffs have more than 200,000 followers on TikTok. Many of them use the app to promote their businesses or to connect with military veterans. 

The case could serve as a testing ground amid a proposal in the House of Representatives to ban TikTok in the U.S. nationwide on all devices. That legislation was advanced by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a March 1 vote.

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