Montana Bans TikTok

Posted by on Jun 1, 2023 in Current Events, Stuff You Should Know

If you’re like many Americans, you probably spend time on the popular social media app TikTok. In fact, about 150 million Americans say they use it regularly. But the governor of Montana has now signed a law banning the app, and other states are likely to follow suit. Is this legal? And how will these changes impact the future of social media in the United States? Here, btw takes a closer look at these questions and more. 

The Ban 

On May 17, Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed a bill banning TikTok. Beginning January 1, 2024, it will be illegal for app stores to offer the option to download TikTok, and for the company to operate in the state. Violating the ban carries a fine of up to $10,000. 

Why ban TikTok? According to Governor Gianforte, this step was necessary for cybersecurity reasons, because the Chinese Communist Party has been using the app to collect personal information and could use it to spy on Americans. While Montana is the first state to outright ban TikTok, other states have already passed rules limiting use of the app on government-owned devices. Many public universities have done the same thing. President Biden also signed a ban last year that prevents all federal employees from using TikTok on their government-owned devices. 

The Opposition 

TikTok immediately promised to fight the Montana law, saying that it restricts the free speech rights of hundreds of thousands of people who use the app for entertainment or to earn money. According to the company, the new law is censorship. On May 22, TikTok filed a lawsuit against Montana, calling the ban unconstitutional. The lawsuit argues that states aren’t allowed to take on matters of national security and foreign affairs; rather, this is the federal government’s responsibility (this is called “federal preemption”). This ban viol also violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents a state from unfairly limiting interstate and foreign commerce. 

Why TikTok? 

One key aspect of the lawsuit is that it claims the ban unfairly targets TikTok, when all social media platforms gather personal information about their users, such as what products they enjoy, where they travel, and who their friends are. Yet TikTok is the only platform facing a ban. Originally, Governor Gianforte amended the language of a draft of the Montana ban to include all social media platforms. But this version of the bill never made it through the state legislature.  

It is true that all social media platforms collect and store data about their users. The difference is that the owners of other platforms are American-based companies, under the control of the U.S. government. In other words, it is the U.S. government that has access to that information. But because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, personal data about hundreds of thousands of Americans is accessible to the Chinese Communist Party. (TikTok has denied giving any information to the Chinese government.) 

Another concern is that China could use the platform to try to influence American users. TikTok has already been accused of editing or censoring videos that are unfavorable to the Chinese government. Many U.S. officials are worried that, through TikTok, China has gained the ability to shape and influence American culture and opinions. 

What Do You Think? After reading this story, do you think that your state should ban TikTok too? Why or why not?