The state-wide TikTok ban in Montana, which was supposed to come into effect on January 1, 2024, has been blocked by a federal judge on Thursday. According to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, the ban “oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional right of users and businesses”.
While there’s still a chance that the ban might be reinstated, the ruling grants the Chinese social media company a temporary wind.
The ban would have seen Montana become the first US state to ban TikTok entirely. TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has been facing a growing number of roadblocks over security concerns in the US.
However, those opposing Montana’s move to ban the platform argue that it violates the First Amendment Rights of the users.
Montana More Focused On Targeting China Than Protecting Consumers, Says Judge Donald Molloy
Explaining the reasoning behind his ruling, Judge Molloy claimed that the ban was not only an overstepping of Montana’s state power, but the state had also failed to demonstrate how the original SB 419 bill would be permissible according to the constitution. This, along with other reasons, was revealed in a legal filing on Thursday.
Montana’s state governor, Greg Gianforte, signed the bill into law in May 2023, claiming that the aim was to protect Montanans from surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party.
The federal judge also went on to say that no matter how much Montana tried to defend SB 419 as a bill aimed to protect the consumers, it was clear that the state’s legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers”.
The law banned TikTok from operating in the state starting January 2024.
While the 200,000 TikTok users in Montana wouldn’t face any repercussions due to the bill, TikTok and other companies will be slapped with a fine of $10,000 each time a user in Montana accesses the app or is “offered the ability” to download TikTok.
Many have accused the ban of being unconstitutional, pointing out that it challenges the right to freedom and press protected by the First Amendment. Others have noted that the ban would simply be “impossible” to enforce.
Jameel Jaffer, an executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, stated that when Montanans post and consume content on social media platforms like TikTok, they’re essentially exercising their First Amendment rights.
He further went on to express his certainty that the law would be struck down for being unconstitutional as Montana cannot prove that a ban is actually necessary and aligned with legitimate interests.
TikTok Spokesperson’s Statement on the US Court Ruling
Following the court ruling blocking the TikTok ban in Montana, TikTok issued an official statement on the matter. According to TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown, the company is pleased with the ruling and that “hundreds and thousands of Montanans” can continue to use TikTok to express themselves, find a community, and earn a living.
However, Emily Cantrell, a spokesperson of Austin Knudsen, Montana’s Attorney General, attempted to downplay the importance of the ruling.
The federal judge had given multiple indications that the analysis could change with the case proceedings, she asserted in her statement. Indeed, the ruling by Donald Molly was only a preliminary injunction, and there’s a chance that the decision to strike down the ban could be reverted.