Montana Becomes The first U.S. State to Ban TikTok

Montana became the first state in the union to ban TikTok following the passage of a bill in the state House of Representatives. While the controversial measure is expected to be challenged in court, it represents the first step toward broader official censorship of the popular Chinese app.

By a 54-43 vote, the Montana House of Representatives passed the bill, which must now be signed by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte to go into effect.

In a statement quoted by CBS News, the governor’s office said the state legislature’s bill would be “carefully” considered. “We will keep you apprised of the bill’s status once the governor acts on it,” the office said.

Following in the footsteps of the federal government, Gov. Gianforte had already banned the use of TikTok on phones and other devices used by Montana officials after the bill passed the Senate in March on a 30-20 vote.

The bill passed by the state GOP-controlled Montana legislature contains greater restrictions on the use of TikTok on government devices than those in place in other states and by the federal government.

TikTok’s reaction

“The bill’s champions have admitted that they have no feasible plan for operationalizing this attempt to censor American voices,” a company spokesperson said in a statement Friday after the bill’s passage.

He added that “the bill’s constitutionality will be decided by the courts. We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”

The fear of most GOP and Democratic lawmakers is that the app, controlled by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is being used by the Chinese government to obtain data on U.S. users.

TikTok has been accused of being an application in the service of propaganda and the dissemination of false information by the Beijing government. However, the federal government, through the FBI and the CIA, has not yet presented evidence to support such claims and concerns.

Supporters of the U.S. ban on TikTok argue that China has two laws under which companies are required to cooperate with the government on intelligence matters.

They also point out that the company ByteDance itself revealed last December that it had to fire four employees for snooping on the IP addresses of two journalists investigating the company. The employees were trying to discover the journalists’ source after a company report was leaked.

The bill being debated in Congress

Currently, lawmakers in Washington are debating a bill that, while not mentioning Tik Tok, gives the Commerce Department sufficient power to act against foreign technology platforms it deems a threat to national security.

The proposal, which is supported by the White House, is rejected by right-wing analysts and privacy advocates, among others, who consider that its content is too broad.

The bill passed by Montana came at the behest of the state’s attorney general, Austin Knudsen, who encouraged state lawmakers to quickly pass legislation banning the use of TikTok on government devices.

“I think Montana’s got an opportunity here to be a leader,” Knudsen said in March during a meeting with a House committee. According to the Republican prosecutor, the Chinese government would be using the app to spy on Montana citizens.

Legislation banning the use of TikTok in Montana is expected to take effect in January 2024. But, if Congress passes a similar ban or if ByteDance decides to stop cooperating with the Chinese government, then it will lapse.

According to the content of the approved bill, TikTok downloads are banned throughout Montana. The fines are up to $10,000 per day and would apply to any “entity” or app store that promotes the use of TikTok. However, these penalties would not apply to users.

While Montana takes a step back from social media by banning TikTok, the tech world is moving forward, with Google I/O 2023 hyping up artificial intelligence.

Santiago Contreras is a Venezuelan professional journalist and writer. He has a degree in economic journalism from the Universidad de los Andes and a master's degree in Communication in Organizations from the Complutense University of Madrid. He regularly writes on various topics, including economics, finance, and cryptocurrency, for various international media outlets.