TikTok has filed a lawsuit against Montana, which enacted a penalty to prevent the social media app from operating in the state.
The law, signed by Governor Greg Gianforte on May 17, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. TikTok, or any entity including an app store, will be fined $10,000 a day each time a resident accesses the app or for each day that the app is available for use. Gianforte has said there are multiple social media or tech platforms operating in the United States with ties to foreign adversaries, including Lemon8, Telegram Messenger, Temu, and WeChat.
The company contends that the policy is a violation of the First Amendment, oversteps the boundaries of state authority, and targets TikTok unlawfully.
“Through TikTok, Plantiff exercises its constitutionally protected editorial judgment on whether, and how, to host, disseminate, and promote third-party speech created by others, and also shares its own content with users in Montana about a variety of issues and current events,” states the 62-page complaint which was filed in federal district court in Montana.
“The TikTok Ban, however, effects a prior restraint on the speech of Plaintiff and other TikTok users, unconstitutionally shutting down the forum for speech for all speakers on the app and singling these speakers out for disfavored treatment with the content-based rationale that videos on TikTok are harmful to minors,” the suit continues.
The company said Montana lawmakers’ concerns about the Chinese government’s potential acquisition of private, sensitive user data harvested by TikTok because of its broad terms of service are ultimately a matter that only the federal government can regulate.
“Foreign affairs and national security are matters over which the U.S. Constitution vests exclusive authority in the federal government, not the States,” read the lawsuit. “Indeed, Congress has created a specific federal regulatory process by which the purported national security concerns that have animated this legislation may be addressed.”
TikTok attempted to rally its Montana users into action before Gianforte signed the policy into law. The company urged fans of the app to call their representative or email the governor to complain. TikTok also set up the #MTLovesTikTok for content creators to use in order to raise awareness. An estimated 200,000 people in Montana use the app.
“Montana’s bill isn’t about making users safe, it’s about unilaterally restricting the freedom of Montanans based on nothing more than fears and falsehoods,” TikTok said in a statement on March 13. “No government, as far as we know, has ever told Americans what they can or can’t download from an app store or access on the web. This is a decision that deserves a second look.”
Montana is standing behind its penalty for TikTok.
“The Chinese Communist Party is using TikTok as a tool to spy on Americans by collecting personal information, keystrokes, and even the locations of its users – and by extension, people without TikTok who affiliate with users may have information about themselves shared without evening knowing it,” said Emily Flowers, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, in a statement to The Hill.