Today’s a day that ends in y, so politicians are doing stupid things that violate our rights. This time, it’s Montana Republicans, where Governor Greg Gianforte just signed into law a bill that (ostensibly) bans TikTok in the state.
“Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed legislation to ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China, making it the first U.S. state to ban the popular short video app,” Reuters reports. “Montana will make it unlawful for Google and Apple’s app stores to offer TikTok within the state, but will not impose any penalties on individuals using the app. The ban is to take effect Jan. 1, 2024, and is almost certain to face legal challenges.”
“To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana,” the governor tweeted Wednesday evening.
To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana.
— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) May 17, 2023
The first problem with this “ban” is that it’s going to be laughably ineffective. As Reuters explained, it doesn’t actually punish individuals for using the app, it just makes it illegal for app stores to offer it in Montana. So, all a Gen Zer has to do is use a free VPN app to set their virtual “location” to any other state and then download the app. Boom: they’re back on TikTok swiping through cat videos and communist content.
That’s right: It’s not going to accomplish anything… except inconveniencing, adding expensive regulations to our tech sector, and annoying people.
But it’s still, in principle, an attack on the First Amendment. You don’t have to like TikTok. You can even think it’s dangerous or poisonous to society. But Americans have a First Amendment right to transmit and receive information—and no level of government has the lawful authority to deny them that right.
“A blanket ban on a social media platform is an overbroad response that overlooks constitutional protections, setting a dangerous precedent for censorship and challenging the fundamental principles of a free society,” the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) said after Montana’s move. “When the government crafts laws to protect our national security, it must do so without unduly restricting our freedom of speech and expression. Montana’s legislators and Gov. Gianforte have failed that test. If Montana is concerned about China, it shouldn’t adopt its methods.”
STATEMENT: Montana's TikTok ban violates the First Amendment rights of Montanans, infringing upon their freedom of expression and their right to receive information.
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) May 18, 2023
The argument motivating these bans—that TikTok is “Chinese spyware”—is incredibly overhyped and exaggerated. But to whatever extent there is a security or privacy threat posed by the app, that can be addressed through less draconian steps like banning it from government devices. So, too, the government can educate citizens about the potential privacy risks. If they still decide to use it, that’s their choice.
This ban might well get slapped down by the courts. But either way, Americans shouldn’t stand for this kind of nanny-state nonsense from our policymakers.