Montana Bans TikTok

Who knew they got cell reception?

AP (“Montana says 1st-in-nation TikTok ban protects people. TikTok says it violates their rights“):

Montana became the first state in the U.S. to enact a complete ban on TikTok on Wednesday when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a measure that’s more sweeping than any other state’s attempts to curtail the social media app, which is owned by a Chinese tech company.

The measure, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, is expected to be challenged legally and will serve as a testing ground for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned. Cybersecurity experts say it could be difficult to enforce the ban.

“Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” Gianforte said in a statement.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter argued that the law infringes on people’s First Amendment rights and is unlawful. She declined to say whether the company will file a lawsuit.

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” Oberwetter said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties of Montana and NetChoice, a trade group that counts Google and TikTok as its members, also called the law unconstitutional. Keegan Medrano, policy director for the ACLU of Montana, said the Legislature “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.”

Some lawmakers, the FBI and officials at other agencies are concerned the video-sharing app, owned by ByteDance, could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on U.S. citizens or push pro-Beijing misinformation that could influence the public. TikTok says none of this has ever happened.

A former executive at ByteDance alleges the tech giant has served as a “propaganda tool” for the Chinese government, a claim ByteDance says is baseless.

When Montana banned the app on government-owned devices in late December, Gianforte said TikTok posed a “significant risk” to sensitive state data. More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have a similar ban.

On Wednesday, Gianforte also announced he was prohibiting the use of all social media applications tied to foreign adversaries on state equipment and for state businesses in Montana effective on June 1. Among the apps he listed are WeChat, whose parent company is headquartered in China; and Telegram Messenger, which was founded in Russia.

The obvious question, How would such a ban even work?

Montana’s new law prohibits downloads of TikTok in the state and would fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

Opponents say Montana residents could easily circumvent the ban by using a virtual private network, a service that shields internet users by encrypting their data traffic, preventing others from observing their web browsing. Montana state officials say geofencing technology is used with online sports gambling apps, which are deactivated in states where online gambling is illegal.

And, jokes aside, people in Montana not only use TikTok but at least one (a huge percentage of the state’s population!) makes a living from it:

Adam Botkin, a former football player and recent graduate at the University of Montana, said it was a scary time for him as a content creator in Montana. The 22-year-old has nearly 170,000 followers on TikTok, where he mostly posts short videos of himself performing football kicks.

He says he sometimes makes “tens of thousands” of dollars per month from brands looking to market their products on his social media accounts, including Instagram, where he has roughly 44,000 followers.

Botkin says most of his income comes from Instagram, which is believed to be more lucrative for content creators. But he has to grow his following on that platform — and others — to have the same level of popularity that he does on TikTok. He says he’s trying to do that and won’t try to circumvent the TikTok ban by using a VPN.

“You got to adapt and evolve with how things move,” Botkin said. “So, if I have to adapt and move, I’ll adapt.”

Leaving 1st Amendment questions aside, it’s not clear to me how a state government has the authority to regulate global entities engaged in interstate commerce. As a practical matter, it’s sheer madness to make companies subject to potentially 50 different sets of regulations. And how is, say, Apple, even supposed to determine whether a user is in Montana?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The “Freedom Party” in action.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: In fairness, the Biden administration banned TikTok on government systems and there’s a bipartisan push to either ban the service entirely or force divestment of Chinese ownership.

  3. Scott says:

    I have no problem with state or federal rules on government-owned devices. In fact, I’m surprised employees were allowed to use such devices as quasi-personal property.

  4. Jax says:

    There’s a whole-ass conspiracy theory associated with this TikTok ban. Something about the dollar no longer being official currency, all the banks are gonna fail, Agenda 21, marshall (sic) law, yada yada yada.

    I had a (now former) friend I hadn’t heard from in a couple years randomly text me a couple weeks ago. Long, meandering texts that made no sense, explaining this whole conspiracy theory. At first I thought he’d been hacked, so I asked him questions only he would know (we’ve been friends since the 90’s). Nope, it was definitely him, and he had fallen down the Q rabbit hole. I ended up having to block him.

    Q rots brains and ruins friendships.

  5. Rick DeMent says:

    … it’s sheer madness to make companies subject to potentially 50 different sets of regulations.

    How is this different from anything else they any company has to deal with the nano-second they start doing business across state lines?

    I Agree with James that this is madness and will not solve any problem. But the idea that companies have to deal with 51 different regulatory regimes across the nation, with differing degrees of complexity is the #1 biggest stealth tax on businesses and consumers the world has ever devised. I get that other countries like Canada have state like provinces and theoretically they have more autonomy, but in practice they a lot less ability to enforce them due to much lower budgets so they tend to take a more cooperative approach.

    Meanwhile in the US states are actively trying to pass legislation that restrict their citizens behavior in other states. Big states can leverage their population base to limit the choices in other states. We all have to live under CA automobile emission standards and read dumbed down text books because of TX.

    The full throated defense of “States Rights” seems to be more about who (read which party) gets to control state legislatures that are fine with telling large cities what they can and can’t do regardless of the will of the actual people. This is especially true when state governments override counties and cities to comport with policies that are often wildly at odds with the whishes local populations (or in the case of things like abortion policy most of the people in the state).

    One personas “local” control is another persons oppression and a headache for everyone else. But the bottom line is that US system is wildly inefficient and expensive to navigate.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Rick DeMent: I agree that 50 sets of state laws are inefficient for companies. But I think brick and mortar and online businesses are fundamentally different. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for, say, McDonald’s and Walmart to have to comply with the laws of California, Montana, and Mississippi if they want to operate stores there. (Granted, McD’s is mostly franchises.) That means different minimum wages, LGBTQ protections, and whatnot. Fine. That’s local control.

    I don’t see how the individual states can make rules that apply to purely online businesses. It would be madness, for example, if OTB somehow had to comply with Florida and California laws with regard to, say, the use of gender pronouns or the practice of “dead naming” transgender individuals. Granted, TikTok crosses state lines differently than OTB, in that they presumably pay contributors in each state. But, even there, I don’t know why they should be subject to local regulation.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: I know, and as I have said loudly and repeatedly, as far as I can tell it’s much ado about nothing.

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, as it turns out the Great Firewall can also be bypassed by VPNs and the Chinese government doesn’t care. The people smart enough to do that generally aren’t the target if this particular, uh, “morale improvement”.

  9. wr says:

    Is there anything Republicans don’t want to ban?

    I mean, except murdering small children in schoolyards?

  10. CSK says:

    This appears to be performance art on the part of Greg Gianforte, who made a supreme horse’s ass of himself trying to prove he was as “tough” as Donald Trump by roughing up a reporter from The Guardian in 2018. Jerk.

  11. Kathy says:

    All social media apps, and many others as well, mine your data. The Communist Party exerts a great deal of control over everything within China. I’m sure if they want data mined by Tik Tok, they can have it.

    That said, it’s stupid to pass a law that cannot be enforced.

  12. CSK says:


    That’s why I say it’s performance art.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @wr: Again, while this may be performance art on the part of Montana Republicans, it has been a more-or-less bipartisan consensus going back to the Obama Administration 2011 “pivot to Asia” that China is our biggest long-term strategic competitor. President Biden has not rolled back Trump’s “trade war” and has banned TikTok from federal equipment. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a Federal ban on private use.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: Tik-Tok was banned supposedly because of security issues.

    I”m surprised the gov’t hasn’t banned Twitter yet, based on the present lack of control and potential security holes. About the only social media entity I end up using on my work computer is YouTube, either for technology explanations or for prior art.

  15. Matt says:

    @James Joyner: Banning something from federally owned equipment is entirely different from a federal ban on private use. When I worked in IT for a college we banned all user programs/apps from being installed on the laptops we loaned out . IT’s a standard part of basic security precautions…

  16. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I think brick and mortar and online businesses are fundamentally different. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for, say, McDonald’s and Walmart to have to comply with the laws of California, Montana, and Mississippi if they want to operate stores there. […]

    I don’t see how the individual states can make rules that apply to purely online businesses. It would be madness, for example, if OTB somehow had to comply with Florida and California laws with regard to, say, the use of gender pronouns or the practice of “dead naming” transgender individuals.

    We give a lot of preferences to internet businesses. Famously, Amazon exists largely because of not charging sales tax.

    We shouldn’t be giving them these preferences when they amount to subsidies, we should be treating them like every other company.

    In Amazon’s case, it’s trivial to work out where a product is being shipped to and check the local tax tables. Trivial. They can even offer this as a service for others (and someone will). Any company that ships products is basically a large brick and mortar store without the upkeep of real estate at this point. All major brand brick and mortar stores are just walk in kiosks for their online business that make you fetch the items from their local warehouse yourself.

    For the mega social networks, they might argue that the profiles they gather give them certainty over your state of residence. There will be some regulations on data gathering and you can’t show ads for automatic weapons to users in various states. Totally doable.

    In OTB’s case, you would have to start a state business (block VPN and then geofence, or require some form of address verification) and then expand to other states as you see fit. It would be fine. Services would pop up to help you.

    The feared pronoun laws would not pass constitutional muster, but I can see why you wouldn’t want the expense and hassle of being that test case. Basically nothing on OTB violates any proposed, not obviously unconstitutional laws. You might be turning off Florida or something while laws are in the courts — and, again, there would likely be someone offering a “should I block this state?” service.

  17. Mister Bluster says:’s stupid to pass a law that cannot be enforced.

    See National Maximum Speed Law.
    In mid February of 1974 I drove my disabled friend Joe on a four week round trip from the midwest to California. Palm Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and return. We slept in his 1970 Ford E-150 Econoline van that was not rigged for him to drive most nights except for the 5 days we spent in San Francisco where we stayed with friends. As we started east bound returning home we saw this sight on the Interstates and Freeways that we had just travelled 65 and 70 MPH westbound a few weeks earlier. I tried my best to comply but talk about draggin’ ass. The other roadblock we encountered was that when we started the trip gas was 35¢-39¢/gal. By the time we got headed home it had jumped to 50¢/gal. We had not budgeted for that.
    Drastically cut into our beer fund but somehow we made it.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I’m familiar with that sign. Near the border, there were even speed limit signs of 90 km/h.

    Wasn’t it enforced?

    Mexico’s highways have an upper limit of 110 kph (lower in some stretches). It gets routinely violated where it’s not strictly enforced, and frequent highway travelers all know what those spots are. infrequent travelers figure it out when traffic slows down all around.

  19. Mister Bluster says:


    I did a lot of driving to job sites far from home when the 55 mph limit was the law. It was a joke. Nobody ran that slow on the rural interstates.