TikTok achieved notable legal successes this week, as it faced off against attempts to restrict or ban the platform. Two separate court decisions, one in Indiana and another at the federal level in Montana, dealt setbacks to those seeking to clamp down on TikTok.
While the cases have not yet concluded, their early-stage outcomes demonstrated that, when scrutinized through the lens of essential American legal principles, the political motivations behind regulating TikTok faltered.
In both instances, endeavors to impose restrictions on TikTok faltered due to the failure to meet fundamental legal criteria, such as compliance with the First Amendment or establishing jurisdiction in the matter, as indicated in rulings issued on Thursday.
These outcomes underscore that state efforts to regulate TikTok appear to be primarily political and theatric in nature, lacking a solid legal foundation. When subjected to impartial legal scrutiny, they appear unsubstantiated.
The inability of states to overcome even basic legal hurdles highlights the challenge faced by policymakers attempting to define a concrete problem that their legal tools can effectively address.
The two court cases in question had distinct origins. The Indiana lawsuit sought court-ordered fines and restrictions against TikTok, alleging violations of state consumer protection laws. In Montana, TikTok and a group of content creators brought a lawsuit in response to a state bill, SB419, designed to ban the app’s operation on personal electronic devices within the state.
Both cases revolved around concerns raised by government officials at various levels in the United States regarding TikTok’s ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance. Policymakers have voiced worries that Chinese intelligence laws might compel ByteDance to grant access to TikTok’s US user data to the Chinese government. However, US officials have yet to publicly present concrete evidence of unauthorized government data access.
Calls for banning TikTok in the United States initially emerged during the Trump administration and have fluctuated in the years since. Most attempts to ban the app, however, have faced legal challenges. The only successful bans have targeted its use on official government devices at federal and state levels, while millions of personal devices in the United States continue to access TikTok freely.
During this time, TikTok’s presence in the country has continued to expand. Earlier this year, TikTok announced that it had reached 150 million monthly active users in the United States. An increasing number of creators, small business owners, and other users rely on the platform for their livelihoods.
District Judge Donald Molloy, in his opinion on Thursday, emphasized that banning TikTok in Montana would infringe upon the First Amendment rights of creators who depend on the platform for their expression and income.