UPDATE (05/22/2023): TikTok is suing Montana over a new law that would ban the popular social media app in the state in 2024. The company claims the legislation violates the First Amendment and other parts of the U.S. Constitution, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana on May 22.
"We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana. We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts," TikTok said in a statement.
The original story continues as published below:
Montana has become the first state in the country to completely ban TikTok, a popular social media platform owned by Chinese company ByteDance.
After signing the legislation on May 17, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) said on Twitter that he banned the TikTok app “to protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Now many people online are wondering how the statewide ban will be enforced, and whether individual TikTok users will face fines once the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Will Montana’s TikTok ban penalize individual app users?
No, Montana’s TikTok ban will not penalize individual app users.
WHAT WE FOUND
Montana’s TikTok ban does not impose penalties on individual users of the app. Instead, the law bans TikTok from operating in the state. It also makes it illegal for mobile app marketplaces, like the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, to offer the TikTok app within the state of Montana.
According to the law's text, any “entity” — meaning TikTok, the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store — that allows users to access TikTok, offers the ability to access TikTok or offers the ability to download TikTok, will be “liable in the amount of $10,000 for each discrete violation and is liable for an additional $10,000 each day thereafter that the violation continues.”
But the law also states that these penalties “do not apply to users of TikTok.” This means individual TikTok users within the state of Montana, including residents and visitors, will not face penalties, according to Emily Flower, a Montana Department of Justice spokesperson.
“There are no penalties directed at users. Only TikTok itself or the app stores would be held liable in the event users are able to access the app within the state,” Flower told VERIFY.
After the legislation was signed on May 17, TikTok released a statement on Twitter saying the law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.” The company also said it is “working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
The ACLU of Montana and NetChoice, a trade group that counts Google and TikTok as its members, both call the law unconstitutional.
“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana.
“The government may not block our ability to access constitutionally protected speech – whether it is in a newspaper, on a website or via an app,” said NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo. “In implementing this law, Montana ignores the U.S. Constitution, due process and free speech by denying access to a website and apps their citizens want to use.”
In addition to signing the statewide TikTok ban into law, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte also directed the state’s chief information officer and executive agency directors to prohibit the use of all social media apps tied to foreign adversaries on state equipment and for state business in Montana. This builds upon Gianforte’s TikTok ban on state equipment and for state business within Montana, which he prohibited on Dec. 16, 2022. More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have a similar ban.
“Together, we will defend the State of Montana and its people against threats to our security, privacy, and way of life,” Gianforte said.
Montana’s TikTok ban is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, but it is already facing legal challenges. Five TikTok content creators who live in Montana filed a lawsuit in federal court on May 17 seeking to overturn the ban, arguing the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights.
As of now, TikTok users in Montana who already have the app downloaded on their phones are not prevented from using it, and they won't be required to delete it when the law goes into effect. But it's unclear how the law will impact future app updates and the use of TikTok on the web.
VERIFY reached out to TikTok, Apple and Google for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.