Amidst the uncertainties that surround TikTok on the world stage, the State of Montana, in the USA, was the first to approve the banning of the Chinese app in its territory. The gesture, historic, must be accompanied by the whole country, which is on the verge of taking the same decision.
The decision was taken after a 54-43 victory in a vote among local legislators. Now, the agenda will be defined and signed by Governor Greg Gianforte.
The mayor’s office declined to say when the signature will take place, but noted that Gianforte has already banned TikTok from government devices and asked the state university system to do the same.
The proposal indicates that the ban will take effect on January 1, 2024. It prohibits TikTok from operating in the state, and would prohibit app stores from offering the Chinese ByteDance app in Montana.
If the company fails to comply with the guidelines, it will be required to pay $10,000 per violation. It is unclear, however, how some elements of the legislation would be applied.
Once the proposal reaches the governor, he will have ten days to act on it before it automatically becomes law.
Before the vote, the proposal’s authors said they expected legal challenges that could reach the US Supreme Court if Gianforte signs the agenda.
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill amounts to censorship and violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company “will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana, whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”
App store providers Apple and Google did not immediately respond to The Wall Street Journal’s request for comment.
Lawmakers who opposed the bill say it’s unclear what would happen if TikTok users employed an alternative solution to download the app, such as a VPN.
USA X TikTok
The vote, held in Helena, was the latest setback in TikTok’s campaign to continue operating in the US.
Despite Montana’s relatively small population of just over a million people, the company hired Helena lobbyists and recruited local TikTok creators to appear in newspaper ads to fight the bill.
Some TikTok leaders were concerned that a statewide ban in Montana could trigger a domino effect that could lead other states — and perhaps Congress — to follow suit.
Helena has become the latest demonstration of the bipartisan and national push to ban TikTok over national security concerns. In Washington last month, Democrats and Republicans, in a congressional hearing, quizzed TikTok’s chief executive about his company’s ties to China.
A Pew Research Center poll found that 50% of Americans supported banning TikTok, with 22% opposing and 28% indicating they weren’t sure.
The Biden administration recently asked TikTok to split from its parent company ByteDance or face possible banning. Some members of Congress and Biden administration officials have said they are concerned that the Chinese government will force TikTok to spy on its 150 million U.S. users or distribute propaganda.
TikTok has said it would refuse to comply with such a request – and that it has proposed a $1.5 billion plan to the Biden administration that would insulate its US operations from China’s influence.
The TikTok ban debate in Helena mirrored the conversation in Washington. Republican State Senator Shelley Vance said she introduced the bill — which was written with the help of Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, also a Republican — over national security concerns. The Montana Senate passed it last month, 30 to 20, with bipartisan support.
The bill’s detractors also came from both sides. Just as Liberal Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky’s libertarian leanings raised concerns about Congressional efforts to ban TikTok across the country, Montana lawmakers from both parties did the same in Helena.
With information from The Wall Street Journal