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Montana Leads the Charge: First U.S. State to Ban TikTok

In an unprecedented move, Governor Greg Gianforte has signed into law, legislation prohibiting the operation of the Chinese-owned TikTok app in the state of Montana. The law will be effective from January 1, 2024. Google and Apple’s app stores will be barred from offering the app within the state. 

However, no penalties will be imposed on individuals using the app. This is the first instance of a U.S. state implementing a full ban on the popular short video app. In a tweet, Governor Greg Gianforte announced 

“To protect Montanan’s personal and private data from the Chinese communist party, I have banned TikTok in Montana”

The objective of this law, according to the governor, is to protect the people of Montana from potential intelligence gathering by China, and violators may face a potential fine of $10000 per day

TikTok CEO’s Congressional Testimony

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced a  grueling five-hour congressional hearing with Lawmakers questioning him over alleged Chinese influence on the platform, the purported harmful effect on children’s mental health, and the app’s influence on Americans.

Chew continuously denied the claims that the app shares data with the Chinese Communist Party, stating,

“American data is stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,”

When the legislation was passed in the state of Montana, TikTok issued a statement via TikTokComms stating

“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state. We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find a community as we continue working to defend the rights of users inside of Montana,”

National Concerns About TikTok

The TikTok ban in the state of Montana reflects national concerns about the short-video platform, which lawmakers from both parties believe holds considerable power over American users, especially children. There were lingering accusations of the app promoting content that encourages eating disorders, illegal drug sales, and sexual exploitation during the hearing.

“We must save our children from big tech companies like yours, who continue to abuse and manipulate them for your own gain,” said Representative Gus Bilirakis, reflecting the sentiments of many lawmakers.

Despite TikTok’s claims of spending over $1.5 billion on data security efforts under “Project Texas”, legislators remain skeptical about its measures to ensure user safety. These ongoing concerns have added a new element to the tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Implications and Reactions

The legislation has brought about varying responses, both domestically and internationally. It is expected to face legal challenges, as many critics, including the ACLU, have deemed it unconstitutional.

“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small businesses in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana.

Industry group NetChoice’s general counsel, Carl Szabo, also criticized the law, saying,

“The government may not block our ability to access constitutionally protected speech – whether it is in a newspaper, on a website, or via an app.”

On the international front, China’s commerce ministry warned that 

“Forcing TikTok’s sale will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States.”

While the ban sets a precedent, it remains unclear how other states will respond or whether this action will strengthen the Biden administration’s legal powers to ban TikTok nationwide. Many states have already banned the usage of the app on government devices but will they be willing to take a step further?

As the legal and political battle over TikTok’s operations in the U.S. unfolds, users and observers will be keenly watching. What will happen to individuals whose entire livelihood depends on TikTok? Is there a future for the app in the united states? Will Chinese investors pay any more attention to the US market? It will be interesting to see how this story evolves, and what it might mean for the wider social media landscape.

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