The state’s action follows efforts in Congress, including a bipartisan bill in the Senate targeting TikTok and other apps from foreign adversaries. But momentum has stalled in recent weeks after libertarian members like Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) came out against a ban.
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, if courts don’t act first, and any app stores offering TikTok to the state’s 1.1 million residents risk facing penalties enforced by the Montana Department of Justice. That penalty starts at an initial $10,000 fine per violation, and then $10,000 a day that a violation continues.
TikTok says the law violates the First Amendment and the company is assessing its next legal steps. “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,” Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said in a statement.
Similarly, Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, a tech trade group that represents TikTok, said, “We are disappointed to see Gov. Gianforte sign this plainly unconstitutional bill.”
The signing also drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. “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. “We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”
The legislature passed the bill in April, and Gianforte proposed amendments to the bill later that month to expand the ban to all social media that sends U.S. users’ data to a foreign adversary. The legislative session ended before they could consider the amendments, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Gianforte also sent a directive Wednesday to the state’s Chief Information Officer to ban social media apps from all foreign adversaries on all government-issued devices or while connected to state internet networks. This includes social media apps from TikTok’s owner ByteDance, including CapCut, Lemon8 and TikTok, as well as Telegram messenger, which was founded in Russia; Temu, which is owned by China-based Pinduoduo, and WeChat, owned by China-based Tencent.