Despite Ruling Halting Montana’s TikTok Ban, Calls Persist To Regulate the App

A federal judge’s halting of Montana’s TikTok ban comes as federal lawmakers say the platform is a weapon used in China’s ‘smokeless battlefield.’

AP/Michael Dwyer
Google, Facebook, TikTok and other Big Tech companies operating in Europe are facing one of the most far-reaching efforts to clean up what people encounter online. AP/Michael Dwyer

A federal judge’s blocking in Montana of what would have been a first-ever state TikTok ban marks a temporary setback for the growing pushes to censor the social media platform, but pressure is mounting from lawmakers to regulate the app. 

The ruling, which came out of Montana on Thursday from a U.S. district judge, Donald Molly, halted a ban on the app which was set to go into effect in the state on January 1, 2024. The case sparked national attention in the escalating debate over the intersection of tech giants, national security, consumer data, and freedom of speech. 

“While there may be a public interest in protecting Montana consumers, the State has not shown how this TikTok bill does that,” the ruling notes, adding that the statewide ban “oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional rights of users and businesses.”

The judge’s ruling was “expected,” the president of the Digital Progress Institute, Joel Thayer, which filed an amicus brief arguing in favor of the state ban, tells the Sun. He says that this temporary blocking of the ban— known as a preliminary injunction — is “not a full decision on the merits.” 

“For example, the Texas social media law had the same result at the district court level at the same stage of litigation and was summarily overturned by the 5th Circuit,” Mr. Thayer notes. “So we’ll see how the appeals process works out for Montana’s law.”

Montana’s governor, Greg Gianforte, signed the law in May. Though Mr. Gianforte was not immediately available for comment, his office previously told the Sun that it was the governor’s duty to “protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”

A representative of TikTok was not immediately available for comment, but wrote on X that the company was “pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok.” 

Montana’s Attorney General’s Office, however, is emphasizing that the decision is only “preliminary,” not final. 

“The judge indicated several times that the analysis could change as the case proceeds and the State has the opportunity to present a full factual record,” the office’s deputy communications director, Emilee Cantrell, said, as noted by CNN. “We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data.” 

On the federal level, lawmakers are pressing ahead in calls to regulate the app. In a hearing last week by the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, lawmakers expressed concern that China was using the app as a form of warfare. 

“In Xi Jinping’s view, the war has already started on the most important battlefield: your mind,” the committee’s chairman, Congressman Mike Gallagher, said in a hearing titled “Discourse Power: The CCP’s Strategy to Shape the Global Information Space.”

“On Xi’s ‘smokeless battlefield,’ TikTok is a perfect weapon, camouflaged in plain sight,”  Mr. Gallagher added. 

“In the best-case scenario, TikTok is CCP spyware,” he says. “In the worst-case scenario, TikTok is perhaps the largest scale malign influence operation ever conducted.” 

The Republican lawmaker called on Congress to act urgently to prevent further abuse of the app by China. 

“Allowing a CCP-controlled entity to become the dominant media platform in America would be as if, in 1962, right before the Cuban Missile Crisis, we had allowed Pravda and the KGB to purchase The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC, and NBC,” Mr. Gallagher said.

The New York Sun

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