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How enforceable are TikTok bans?

Posted at 10:13 PM, Mar 25, 2024

HELENA — Even if you have never used TikTok, you have probably heard of the social media platform—it has generated buzz among lawmakers both in Montana and at the national level. MTN viewer Don Cresswell wanted to know if restrictions or bans on the app are possible to enforce.

According to TikTok, the app has 150 million active users in the United States.

The Montana Legislature passed a ban on TikTok during the last legislative session, and the US House of Representatives recently passed something similar.



MTN News political reporter Jonathon Ambarian followed Montana’s TikTok ban as it moved through the state legislature, was signed into law and subsequently ended up in court. He has also read the bill passed by the US House.

“The big difference is that it’s a lot more unknown, or a lot harder maybe, to figure out how a state, an individual state, is going to take action on something like that than the federal government,” Ambarian said. “The state doesn’t really control the internet.”

The Montana ban says app stores would be fined if they made TikTok available to anybody in the state, but that has raised questions about enforcement at the state-level as the ban moves through the court system.

“How do we know exactly when we’re in Montana or outside of Montana?” Ambarian said. “The tribal reservations—are they included in Montana, are they not included in Montana?”

The Montana TikTok ban also does not do anything about people who have already downloaded the social media app.

Like the Montana ban, the federal-level bill also says app stores cannot make TikTok available to users in the US, but it goes farther.

“They would say you couldn’t have American internet hosting services working with TikTok,” Ambarian said. “That maybe would have more of an impact on their ability to operate in the US.”

Both the Montana ban and the federal-level bill give TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, six months to sell the social media platform to an American company.

The Montana Ban is currently being appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The federal-level bill is being reviewed by the US Senate, which could take a while.