Montana Asks Judge to Allow TikTok Ban to Take Effect While Legal Challenge Moves Through Courts

TikTok has safeguards to moderate content and protect minors, and would not share information with China, the company has argued

By Associated Press
Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at the Old Courthouse in Kalispell for bill signing event on June 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

HELENA – Montana is asking a federal judge to allow its law banning new downloads of the video-sharing app TikTok to take effect in January while a challenge filed by the company and five content creators is decided by the courts.

The state filed its response Friday to the plaintiffs’ motion in July that asked U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy to temporarily prevent the law from being implemented until the courts can rule on whether it amounts to an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen had the bill drafted over concerns — shared by the FBI and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken — that the app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on U.S. citizens or push pro-Beijing misinformation that could influence the public. TikTok has said none of this has ever happened.

The federal government and more than half the U.S. states, including Montana, have banned TikTok from being used on government-owned devices.

“The federal government has already determined that China is a foreign adversary. And the concerns with TikTok are well documented at both the state and federal level,” the brief said. The Montana law, “therefore, furthers the public interest because it protects the public from the harms inseparable from TikTok’s operation.”

Disallowing Montana’s regulation of TikTok would be like preventing the state from banning a cancer-causing radio “merely because that radio also transmitted protected speech,” the brief argues.

There are other applications people can use to express themselves and communicate with others, the state argues. The plaintiffs have said their greatest social media following is on TikTok.

TikTok has safeguards to moderate content and protect minors, and would not share information with China, the company has argued. But critics have pointed to China’s 2017 national intelligence law that compels companies to cooperate with the country’s governments for state intelligence work.

Montana’s law would prohibit downloads of TikTok in the state and would fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.