The state of Montana has taken an unprecedented step by becoming the first in the United States to ban TikTok. In a groundbreaking move, the governor has signed legislation that prevents mobile application stores from offering the popular video-sharing app within the state by next year.
This dramatic action is just one in a series of escalations against TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance. The app has faced mounting scrutiny over its ties to China, with concerns arising about potential national security threats posed by such connections.
Already, the federal government and over half of US states have prohibited the use of TikTok on government devices. Furthermore, the Biden administration has issued a warning of a national ban unless the app’s parent company divests its shares.
While TikTok has consistently denied sharing data with the Chinese government, this groundswell of opposition has put pressure on the company to defend its practices. TikTok has assured that it would never comply with such requests if made.
In a statement, TikTok expressed its objections to the Montana bill, claiming that it infringes upon the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana. The company also emphasized its determination to defend the rights of its users both inside and outside the state.
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, faced tough questioning about the social network’s relationship with China and its impact on the mental health of young people during a recent bipartisan congressional hearing in March.
As one of the world’s most popular social networks, TikTok has amassed a staggering 100 million users in the United States alone. Questions still linger about the enforceability of such bans and the potential impact they will have on content creators who rely on the platform.
Montana’s new law, slated to take effect on January 1st, explicitly prohibits the downloading of TikTok within the state. Additionally, it imposes hefty fines of $10,000 per day on any app store or TikTok itself for each instance someone is “offered the ability” to access the platform or download the app. Users, however, will not be penalized.
It is expected that Montana’s ban will face legal challenges in the future. Nevertheless, it serves as a testing ground for the vision of a TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have espoused.
Governor Gianforte has gone a step further by prohibiting the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices. This includes apps like WeChat and Telegram Messenger.
Critics argue that this measure represents an overreach of government power and suggest that Montana residents could easily bypass the ban by using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt their data traffic. Others have raised concerns about the crackdown on internet freedom, alleging that it amounts to censorship.
Keegan Medrano, policy director for the ACLU of Montana, voiced concerns about the legislature’s actions, stating that it “trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans.” Medrano believes that the ban is driven by anti-Chinese sentiment, hindered citizens’ expressions, and undermined small business owners who rely on the app for information and promotion.
The trade group NetChoice, which includes Google and TikTok as its members, has labeled the bill as unconstitutional. According to Carl Szabo, the group’s vice-president and general counsel, the legislation violates the constitution by obstructing Americans’ access to constitutionally protected online speech.
This bold move by Montana heralds a new era in the battle over TikTok and its potential risks. As the first state to institute such a ban, Montana will be closely watched as other lawmakers across the country grapple with how to address the popularity and influence of the platform.