TikTok Creators File Lawsuit Challenging Montana Ban

A group of TikTok creators in Montana have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ban of the app, arguing that the law signed by Governor Greg Gianforte violates their First Amendment rights.

The ban signed by Gov. Gianforte on Wednesday is the first state-level ban of the social media platform. The complaint was filed just hours later in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Wednesday evening.

The lawsuit asserts that TikTok is comparable to other forms of media, which the state does not have the authority to keep Montanans from accessing and contributing to.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes.”

The group of creators stated that the new ban, set to take effect in January 2024, goes far beyond restrictions already in place in Montana and other states.

Other states have prohibited the use of TikTok on government devices, citing a potential threat to national security because of TikTok’s ties to China via its parent company ByteDance. The Montana ban extends to personal devices, making it illegal for TikTok to operate the app and for the Apple and Google app stores to offer it for download within state lines.

According to the law, TikTok could be fined $10,000 for each violation of the ban, plus another $10,000 for each day the infraction persists. Google and Apple may face the same fines.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Gianforte said in a statement that the Governor’s decision was motivated by wanting to protect “Montanans’ personal and private data being harvested by the Chinese Communist party.”

“While the Chinese Communist Party may try to hide their nefarious spying and collection of individuals’ personal, private, sensitive information under the banner of our First Amendment, the governor has an obligation to protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”

TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, has stated that the Chinese government has never asked TikTok for its data on users in the U.S. There has also been no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, released a statement saying that the office expects a legal challenge but is “fully prepared to defend the law.”

Emilee Cantrell, another spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, told The New York Times that the state would enforce the ban through “geo-fencing,” which is “already in use across the gaming industry.”

“A basic internet search will show you companies that provide geolocation compliance. If companies do not comply with the ban, the agency will investigate and hold offending entities accountable in accordance with the law.”

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In addition to citing the First Amendment, the lawsuit argues that Montana’s ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving TikTok users of other rights without due process.

It also asserts that the new law violates federal authority to set foreign policy and regulate interstate commerce, undermining the federal government’s powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union described the ban as “unconstitutional.” Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times that to justify a ban and have it hold up to legal scrutiny, the state would have to demonstrate its security concerns are real.

“Many have hypothesized that China might demand that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, turn over Americans’ data or use TikTok to push disinformation in some way, but neither Montana nor the U.S. government has pointed to any evidence that China is actually doing this. That’s a problem because speculative harms can’t justify a total ban on a communications platform, particularly one that’s used by hundreds of thousands of Montanans daily.”

TikTok told Reuters that the new measure “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.”

“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.”

The five plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit include a former Marine sergeant, a rancher, a swimwear business, and an exercise influencer.


Texas County Considers Closing Its Libraries after Federal Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Shelves

A federal judge ordered a rural Texas county to return 12 banned books back to library shelves, and now the county is considering closing its libraries altogether.

The list of banned books included “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.

Seven local residents sued county officials for removing the books, citing their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Federal Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Llano County Library System had to reinstate the books into circulation at its three library branches.

A meeting agenda for the Commissioners Court of Llano County shows plans for a discussion to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County library system pending further guidance from the Federal Courts.” The meeting is set for Thursday.

The agenda also lists discussions “regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

Leila Green Little, one of the residents suing the county, emailed supporters to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

“We may not get another opportunity to save our library system and, more importantly, the public servants who work there.”

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According to the lawsuit, in 2021, county officials allegedly removed library board members and replaced them with new members who would review the content of all library books. Several books were removed from libraries, and access to an e-book service was revoked shortly after.

In his decision, Judge Pitman stated, “The First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination” and gave the library system 24 hours to return the books to their shelves.

In a statement to CNN, Ellen Leonida, the attorney representing the seven residents, underscored the extreme measure the county was considering.

“It appears that the defendants would rather shut down the Library System entirely — depriving thousands of Llano County residents of access to books, learning resources, and meeting space — than make the banned books available to residents who want to read them.”

There is a growing movement for the censorship of books in grade schools, universities and public libraries. According to CNN, books that tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or by authors in those communities were among the ten most challenged titles in 2021. The trend continued the following year.

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The American Library Association reported that, in the two decades since it began tracking book censorship, the number of attempts to ban books had reached an all-time high in 2022 at 1,269 total demands.

“The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021. A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.”

In a press release, Deborah Caldwelll-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, stated, “Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media.”

“Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore. The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”


School Book Bans Are Rising at an Unprecedented Rate

According to a report by PEN America, 50 conservative advocacy groups moved to ban more than 1648 books in 32 states within the last school year. The report speaks to a growing push for censorship in public schools nationwide.

Miami Florida

Florida Governor DeSantis Targets Social Media Platforms In Newly Signed Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is targeting social media platforms ina newly signed bill that’s meant to monitor how social media platforms moderate online content. 

The legislation is one of the largest steps made by a Republican governor ever since allegations of online censorship were thrown at tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Tech industry leaders, however, claim that the legislation is unconstitutional and is setting everyone up for a massive court battle. 

On Monday, DeSantis claimed that a “council of censors in Silicon Valley are to blame for shutting down the debate over Covid-19 lockdowns and the origins of the coronavirus.”

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“I would say those lockdowns have ruined millions of people’s lives all around this country. Wouldn’t it have been good to have a full debate on that in our public square? But that was not what Silicon Valley wanted to do.”

The bill that he signed specifically “prohibits tech platforms from suspending or banning political candidates in the state, with possible fines of $250,000 per day if the de-platformed candidate is seeking statewide office and $25,000 per day if the candidate is running for a non-statewide office,” according to CNN.

The legislation would also give Florida residents the power to sue tech companies for de-platforming. Similar bills have been in the works in states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Utah. 

US lawmakers have been proposing significant changed to the federal law in its relation to the legal leeway that tech platforms have when it comes to online censorship. The federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, has been under fire by Democrats who argue that the platform’s benefit from a law that was created before the technology even existed. 

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Tech industry leaders have repeatedly denied blocking or removing content solely based on political ideology. Many tech platforms began flagging posts that discussed the Covid-19 pandemic, but were spreading harmful misinformation. 

After multiple Republicans and former president Donald Trump continued to spread falsehoods and misinformation about the 2020 election and the sanctity of our Democracy, many political leaders began getting deplatformed for the harmful information they were spewing. 

Florida’s legislation will “force tech platforms to step back from moderating their sites due to the threat of litigation by any internet user, from foreign extremists to disgruntled internet trolls,” said the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group.

“Florida taxpayers will also end up paying their share in the cost of enforcing new regulations, and for the inevitable legal challenges that will come along with the legislature’s effort to adopt a law with glaring constitutional challenges,” CCIA president Matt Schruers, wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution — backstopped by Section 230 — makes it abundantly clear that states have no power to compel private companies to host speech, especially from politicians,” said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a co-author of Section 230, in a statement regarding the signing on the Florida bill.

Facebook App on Wood Background

Facebook News Ban In Australia Blocks Pages For Fire Services And Charities

Facebook made the sudden decision to block people from sharing the news in Australia, which has led to a multitude of government organization and service group pages to be completely removed from the social media platform.


TikTok’s Censorship Issues

TikTok has fast become one of the quickest growing social networks. However, the Chinese platform has recently come under fire following leaked documents revealing censored videos. Sources claim that videos showing people with disabilities, homosexuals or overweight people were hidden from view in a move to “protect vulnerable users.” Thanks to a strange policy, moderators were encouraged to limit the reach of some users, placing them on a ‘special users’ list, with the concern that they would be more vulnerable to bullying and internet trolls.

Website obtained documents that highlighted TikTok’s guidelines and spoke with a reliable source. In the documents, ByteDance, the Beijing-based technology company who owns TikTok, details how to deal with bullying with dubious methods of controlling it. In their moderation rules is a section called “Imagery depicting a subject highly vulnerable to cyber bullying” and discusses users who are “susceptible to harassment or cyberbullying based on their physical or mental condition.”

TikTok moderators are encouraged to mark accounts of people who have disabilities as ‘Risk 4’, meaning the video will only be available in the country the user uploaded it, resulting in some accounts only having a reach of around 5.5 million people — depending on their country’s user numbers — rather than their global audience, which is nearer to one billion people.

There were further restrictions for accounts where the owners were deemed extremely vulnerable. If the videos exceeded 6,000 to 10,000 views they were automatically tagged as “Auto R,” meaning if they exceeded these numbers they would automatically be placed in the ‘not recommended’ category.

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This means the algorithms will not allow the video to appear in the For You Feed that is shown when you first open the app.

Although many users may not acknowledge their disability, TikTok’s guidelines state that moderators need to look for “autism,” “Down syndrome,” and “facial disfigurements.” If a moderator deems that someone in the video has these characteristics the video is restricted. Each moderator has around 30 seconds to make these decisions.

Many are asking how someone can acknowledge somebody has any of the disorders within such a short time and the moderators appear to be as confused as everyone else. It seems that even with worldwide debates looking at the visibility of disabled people in the media, while many are asking for a barrier-free internet and open visibility, TikTok is going out of its way to block such users.

AbilityWatch’s Constantin Grosch thinks the policy is “overriding and exclusionary,” saying:

“The regulation listed here transforms this behavior into new digital platforms in which the visibility of disabled people is deliberately reduced out of misunderstood and unnecessary care.”

A growing online bullying issue is ghosting — a practice of deliberately and suddenly stopping all communication with another to end a relationship with them — which makes the TikTok policy even more shocking. Rather than tackling online bullying, including ghosting and internet trolls, it appears TikTok would rather restrict the victims.

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One source familiar with the moderating rules reported that staff repeatedly pointed out the problems of this policy and asked for a more sensitive and meaningful one. In November, The Washington Post had already reported on clashes between America’s employees and the rule makers in China, with many U.S. employees unhappy they had to restrict further videos including heated debates, heavy kissing, and political discussions.

While TikTok states that the U.S. operation is not required to carry out censorship, employees have stated that the final decisions on videos being restricted are made in Beijing. The potential influence Beijing could have in America has seen the Committee on Foreign Investment investigate the deals that ByteDance has had, especially in relation to, with many legal experts asking U.S. officials to investigate “a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore.”

Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s General Manager in America commented:

“TikTok has grown quickly, much like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat grew during their early years. And like those platforms, growth has posed challenges in terms of making sure our policies and practices keep up.”

One of the main concerns with TikTok is its lack of transparency on policies with no details being released about moderating decisions until recently. However, recent pressures have encouraged them to distance themselves from accusations that the app’s content is moderated by the Chinese government — something the Hong Kong protestors have claimed after some of their videos were censored.

ByteDance purchased in 2017 and promptly incorporated it into their own TikTok company, resulting in many young Americans uploading stunts, dances and stories in the millions, enabling TikTok to increase in value to around $75 billion, more than Snapchat and Uber combined. ByteDance is owned by one of China’s richest businessmen, Zhang Yimin.

There are now a reported one billion users worldwide meaning TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform in history. But will their censorship issues be their downfall?

On phone

By Removing Police-Tracking App, Apple Sides with China Over Hong Kong Protestors

On Wednesday, Apple removed an app designed to track police officers called from its App Store in a controversial move that is raising questions about the company’s commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy. was available on the App Store for just days before it was removed on the basis that it violated local laws and enabled protestors to attack the police in Hong Kong. The move came in the wake of intense criticism from state-run Chinese media, as the People’s Daily, a flagship newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party, accused Apple of helping “rioters.” Apple gave a statement justifying its removal of the app, saying it had been used “to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement.”

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As China forms one of the most important markets for Apple and other technology companies, navigating the politics of the pro-democracy protests which have only intensified over the past several months presents a difficult situation. Companies like Apple generally strive to avoid giving the appearance of supporting or opposing political causes, though the company notes that principles like enabling private communication and protecting the security of their users’ personal data are foundational in the design of their products. However, when operating in countries that impose restrictions on human rights as a matter of law like China, Apple and other companies are often forced to make decisions that have inherently political ramifications as they balance their profit motive against the fundamental rights of their customers. Given the unprecedented intensity of the ongoing Hong Kong protests, the reluctant political involvement of large corporations has perhaps never been as consequential as it is at this juncture.

Other companies have also been drawn into the political minefield that arises when operating in China during the Hong Kong protests. An executive of the Houston Rockets tweeted his support of the protests this week, for instance, leading to an apology by the Rockets and the cancellation of broadcasts of N.B.A. games in China, one of their largest markets. And the video game company Blizzard recently banned a professional gamer who expressed support of democracy in Hong Kong during a company-sponsored livestream, forcing him to forfeit $10,000 in prize money and leading to an outcry from the gaming community and an employee walkout at Blizzard offices. The ban was necessary in order for the company to comply with China’s censorship laws, even though it plainly contradicted the company’s core values. By continuing to operate in China under their strict anti-free-speech laws, companies like Blizzard tacitly support a totalitarian regime, as withdrawing their business in China would put economic and political pressure on the Chinese government to loosen restrictions on free speech.

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Of all the companies affected in this way by the ongoing political turmoil in China, perhaps none have a more direct and significant impact on policy than Apple. As one of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers which serves more than 243 million customers in China, Apple is uniquely positioned to impact the flow of information within the authoritarian regime, particularly at a moment when that information threatens the very foundation of the country’s rule over its citizens. Though the Chinese internet is heavily censored, with a variety of social media apps banned and replaced by alternatives managed by the government, Apple nevertheless has some degree of leverage in the form of its software offerings to the Chinese people. As such, the backlash against the company for its latest capitulation to the regime is hard for the company’s socially conscious customers around the world to ignore.

However, the Chinese market remains fairly critical to Apple’s success as a whole, as the company exploits cheap labor in the country to manufacture its products at a competitive price and the Chinese consumer base is the company’s second-largest market. Furthermore, Apple has only recently begun to make headway in the country, and its recent success in the stock market has been based on a belief in the success of continued expansion in this market. As such, it’s probably not reasonable to expect that Apple will sacrifice the economic opportunity presented in China by strengthening its support of human rights with its technology, despite the international outcry. That being said, the company’s PR efforts to depict itself as friendly to human rights is likely to ramp up in the coming weeks in response to the public damage to its image caused by its complacency in the ongoing political crisis. 

Judges Gavel

European Court Rules that Countries can Force Facebook to Delete Content

On Thursday, Europe’s top court ruled that countries can force Facebook to delete content and restrict access to information globally, in a ruling that allows countries to ban access to information outside of their own borders. The decision came after a former Austrian politician sued in an attempt to force the social media company to take down negative commentary that had been posted about her on the site by individual users. The politician, Eva Glawisching-Piesczek, successfully argued that the company is obligated to restrict access to this information around the world, setting a legal precedent which empowers nations to essentially remove information from the internet at will.

As standards for privacy, defamation, and libel vary from country to country, this ruling has wide-reaching implications for how information can be regulated on the Internet, a platform which is by its very nature global and resistant to any one regulatory body. As it is nearly impossible to create a single set of standards for what information should be allowed on a global level, this ruling instead allows nations to enforce their own standards on a global level, concerning advocates for free speech who fear the ruling will lead to mass censorship of legitimate political discussion. Facebook strongly rebuked the ruling, claiming the judgment “undermines the longstanding principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country.”

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Facebook, which is a company based in the United States, nonetheless has to obey the laws of all of the nations in which it operates. The ruling draws attention to the difference in philosophy between the regulation of information in the United States, which takes an almost entirely hands-off approach, and Europe, which is more likely to compel companies like Facebook to restrict access to information. A controversial privacy law in Europe, dubbed “the right to be forgotten,” allows European citizens to compel search engines like Google to remove links to their personal data from search results. No equivalent law exists in the US, and the European Court of Justice last week ruled that this law generally applies only within the European Union.

Facebook represents the public face of the spread of information during an era in which changes in how information spreads around the world has strongly influenced global politics. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in March of this year found widespread interference in the integrity of American elections by Russian operatives, who leveraged social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread false information and to release stolen documents in a deliberate effort to favor one political party over another. This interference, conducted by a number of countries, is likely to continue and intensify during the 2020 US election and has been used in propaganda efforts at an unprecedented scale around the world. As a growing percentage of the US population gets their news from social media as opposed to more traditional and reputable news outlets, the electorate is increasingly likely to be unknowingly swayed by information that is propagated by a foreign power with the intent of undermining the integrity of elections.

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Facebook, for their part, has announced plans to take stronger preventative measures to deter the spread of fake news on their platform. Though the company was arguably complicit in allowing Russian interference in 2016 by taking a hands-off approach to the content of advertisers, the company has implemented plans to identify and label fraudulent activity on the site and has implemented stricter policies for what type of advertising they allow. That being said, the company has chosen not to limit the speech of politicians who advertise using the platform, even when they lie or break rules, as they claim that it’s “not [their] role to intervene when politicians speak.” Despite calls from Democratic contender Kamala Harris and others to ban Donald Trump for breaking the social media site’s rules, Twitter has taken a similar approach, allowing the President to repeat a false narrative that alleges corruption of his political rival Joe Biden.

The European Court’s ruling is just one of the conundrums Facebook and other social media platforms find themselves in with regards to regulating the spread of information around the world. As corporate entities, these platforms have virtually unlimited power to censor the speech they allow their users to circulate. However, there’s no denying that in recent years social media platforms have become more akin to a “public square” than a traditional publisher of information, which suggests they have a responsibility both to allow the free and open exchange of ideas and to curtail speech that poses a clear and present danger. How they, and the governments which have the power to regulate them, manage that responsibility is an ongoing question whose answer ultimately remains to be seen.