Other Technology | May 22, 2023
In September 2020, Donald Trump explicitly banned the download of TikTok and WeChat throughout the country. At that time, the situation was quite tumultuous, but ultimately, it turned out to be much ado about nothing. However, the debate was reignited a few months ago when the use of TikTok was banned among US officials. Europe followed suit, leaving the world wondering if it would be feasible to prohibit its use on a massive scale.
Montana wants to ban TikTok. Montana has decided to take a stance on this issue. The governor of the state, Greg Gianforte, signed a law that prohibits the use of TikTok throughout the territory. This prohibition is set to go into effect on January 1, 2024, aiming to prevent the alleged national security threat posed by the use of TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, a company that, according to the text, has close ties to the Chinese government.
Practical difficulties. Mr. Gianforte’s intentions face a tough challenge that is both practical and legal. Practically, while apps can be removed from the App Store or Google Play Store, doing so at a “state” level appears complicated. It is also not easy to censor and block TikTok’s traffic, as users could potentially access it through the use of a VPN if there is any form of regional or geographic blocking.
And there are also legal difficulties. TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter responded on Twitter to these intentions and stated that such legislation violates the First Amendment, which defends freedom of expression. According to her words, TikTok will continue to be used in Montana so that its users there can “express themselves, earn a living, and find a community.” Prohibiting an application on government devices is one thing, but prohibiting it for all citizens is a different matter.
ISPs will bear the brunt. This law puts internet service providers (ISPs) as responsible for non-compliance. ISPs that violate the law and enable the download or use of TikTok could face fines of up to $10,000 per day if they violate these terms. However, users themselves will not be fined.
Is TikTok a spy? And while there is still no concrete evidence that TikTok is spying on its users. At least that’s what the Chinese Foreign Minister affirmed, denying the accusations and supporting the statements of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who had to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Among other things, he denied that ByteDance was controlled by the Chinese government. “It is a private company,” he assured. Nevertheless, the Chinese government does have de facto control over any company whose management operates in China, as has been clearly seen in the case of Jack Ma.
Five TikTokers sue Montana. Hours after the announcement, five TikTok creators have filed a lawsuit against the Montana Attorney General. According to them, the ban is “unconstitutional and supersedes federal law.” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen had already indicated on Wednesday that he expected a legal battle and was “fully prepared” to defend the new legislation.
Mere suspicion may not be enough. Ramya Krishnan, an attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, commented that the U.S. Constitution protects Americans’ right to access the social media platforms of their choice. According to her, “speculative harm cannot justify a complete ban on a communication platform,” especially when hundreds of thousands of citizens use it daily. There is a legal precedent: a group of creators already sued the Trump administration when it attempted to ban the use of TikTok in 2020. And they won.