Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has signed off on legislation that significantly restricts the operation of the social media app TikTok, marking Montana as the first US state to enact an almost total ban on this platform.
The law, set to go into effect on January 1, 2024, will prevent TikTok from operating within Montana. In addition, it also bans app stores from enabling TikTok downloads within the state, which has raised alarm among technology firms who believe it could be unenforceable and advocates of free speech who view it as a breach of First Amendment rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union publicly voiced its disapproval via a tweet following the announcement, saying, “This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet. Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
TikTok, owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company, claims a global user base of over a billion, with around 150 million users in the US. Despite repeated dismissals from China and TikTok’s proprietors that the video-sharing app poses a threat, it has nevertheless drawn bipartisan scrutiny in the US and other countries due to privacy concerns, surveillance, and its alleged connection to the Beijing government.
Upon ratifying the anti-TikTok law, Governor Gianforte pledged to protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party. Gianforte also issued a memorandum to the state’s chief information officer, pushing for expanding the ban to include other social media apps with foreign affiliations, such as China-based WeChat and Telegram, founded by Russian entrepreneurs. Effective June 1, the memorandum will ban state employees from accessing social media apps that share personal data with foreign adversaries using government devices and networks.
While TikTok has not yet announced whether it will contest the Montana ban through a lawsuit, it’s expected that legal challenges will emerge.