Montana bans TikTok in a major test of free speech

Montana became the first US state to completely ban TikTok on Wednesday when the state’s Republican governor signed a measure that goes further than any other state’s attempt to curb the social media app.

The move is expected to be challenged legally and will serve as a testing ground for An America without TikTok is what many national lawmakers are thinking about.

Some lawmakers, the FBI and officials from other agencies are concerned about the video-sharing app, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on American citizens or push pro-Beijing misinformation to influence the public. TikTok says this has never happened.

When Montana banned the app from government-owned devices in late December, Gov. Greg Gianforte said TikTok poses a “huge risk” to sensitive state data. More than half of the US states and the federal government has a similar restriction.

Gianforte signed the legislation after it quickly passed through Montana’s GOP-controlled Legislature.

Montana’s new law bans the download of TikTok in the state and fines any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day each time someone is “offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. Penalties do not apply to users.

Opponents argue it’s government overreach and say Montana residents can easily circumvent the ban by using a virtual private network, a service that protects internet users by encrypt their data traffic, preventing others from observing their web browsing and other activities. Montana state officials say geofencing technology is used in online sports gambling apps, which are deactivated in states where online gambling is illegal.

TikTok, which says it has a plan to protect US users, vowed to fight the ban, with small business owners saying they use the app for advertising to help grow their businesses and reach more customers. The ACLU of Montana opposed the bill, arguing it was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

The app’s fun, crazy videos and ease of use make it extremely popular, and US tech giants want Snapchat and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, see it as a competitive threat.

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