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.”

Wooden Judges Gavel

Federal Judge Rules Voice Of America Executive Violated Journalists First Amendment Rights

A federal judge ruled this Friday that the chief executive of the agency that oversees Voice of America must stop interfering and investigating with the journalists who are employed there. US District Judge Beryl Howell released a 76-page ruling which found that the CEO of the US Agency Global Media, Michael Pack, and his team violated the First Amendment rights of its journalists. 

Judge Howell also ruled that Pack and his team “showed an extensive pattern of penalizing those Global Media and network employees whom defendants regard as insufficiently supportive of President Trump.” The ruling means that Pack and others working for him won’t be able to do anything that could curb Voice Of America’s (VOA) editorial independence.

This includes “taking personal actions against journalists or editors, attempting to influence content by communicating with individual journalists or editors, and investigating purported breaches of journalistic ethics,” according to the ruling. 

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The initial lawsuit was filed by five senior executives at the US Agency Global Media (USAGM) who Pack fired/suspended back in August. The senior executives alleged that Pack and other top employees consistently tried to interfere with their work because it didn’t align with the political interests of President Donald Trump. 

“Defendants’ extensive pattern of penalizing those USAGM and network employees whom defendants regard as insufficiently supportive of President Trump has resulted in the termination, discipline, and investigation of multiple employees and journalists,” Judge Howell wrote in her ruling.

Acting VOA Director Elez Bibera recently spoke with the press about how important it is for the journalism industry in general to maintain its First Amendment rights, but especially VOA which has acted as a sacred American media institution for decades. 

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“83% of VOA’s audience finds our journalism trustworthy. There are few, if any, media organizations that can claim such trust. Our journalists continue to uphold VOA’s traditions of providing accurate, objective and comprehensive reporting.”

Judge Howell described Pack and his co-defendants in her ruling as “individuals with no discernible journalism or broadcasting experience.” She also added that Pack has tried to interfere in the agency’s “newsrooms in violation of their eighty-year practice, enshrined in law, of journalistic autonomy.” 

The VOA was initially created in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda during WWII. It’s one of many US government funded broadcast outlets that’s available to listeners all over the world. Back in July, a bipartisan group of senators made a pledge to investigate USAGM and their funding after Pack began his mass firings. 

Fast forward to October when the State Department’s inspector general and the US Office of Special Counsel both opened up inquiries about alleged misconduct, abuse of authority, and gross mismanagement within the Agency, according to the lawyers representing the five senior executives.

2020 Olympics

Athlete Protests Banned At 2020 Olympic Games, Sparking Outrage

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is finding itself in the midst of an ongoing debate within the sports industry: professional athletes expressing their right to protest against certain societal injustices through kneeling or raising a fist in the air. The IOC’s solution is a ban on any and all protests from occuring at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The Olympics are no stranger to controversial protests, at the 1968 Mexico City Games, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were awarded both bronze and gold medals, and while on the winner’s podiums they proceeded to take off their shoes and raise a fist wearing a black leather glove in the air in solidarity with the Black Panther movement. The podium protest ended in the IOC expelling both Smith and Carlos and stripping them of their awards, however, since then they have been inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame, which makes the IOC’s recent protest ban even more confusing. 

The IOC’s new guidelines state that displaying any sort of political messaging, making gestures of a political nature, or refusal to follow the ceremony’s predetermined/traditional protocol will result in serious consequences, as all of those actions are a part of the official ban.

“When an individual makes their grievances, however legitimate, more important than the feelings of their competitors and the competition itself, the unity and harmony as well as the celebration of sport and human accomplishment are diminished. Failure to abide by the guidelines will result in the athlete’s action being evaluated by their respective National Olympic Committee, International Federation, and the IOC, and disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary,” according to the guidelines

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos

Immediately after the news was released, fans, athletes, and those in the media were quick to call out the IOC’s hypocrisy within the new guidelines, stating that while the podiums and playing fields need to remain politically neutral, the IOC as an organization itself is able to take any political bias it pleases. Why are countries able to come and boast their national anthems and flags, but not protest about the injustices actually occurring within those countries, especially during the most popular televised sport events in history? Nancy Armour, a politics writer for USA Today, discussed this issue in an op-ed last Thursday (1/9/20) where she encapsulated the opposing view:

“The truth is, it’s not the mixing of politics and sports that [IOC president Thomas] Bach and the IOC don’t like. It’s just fine for Bach to lobby for the issues he finds important. Or to foster good relationships with world leaders who might someday bankrupt their economies in exchange for sparkling venues, five-star hotels, and Olympic traffic lanes that allow IOC members to avoid the general populace on the roads and in the airports. But God forbid athletes should stay silent about racism, homophobia, inequality, or murderous regimes. You know, issues that have a direct effect on their lives.”

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Armour’s point also called on hundreds of social media users who found themselves just as upset about the new guidelines. One of the guaranteed perks of living in a free country is having the right to speak up against/for any issue that you want because that’s something you earn as an individual with freedom. When major organizations protect the rights of big businesses and those in power, it begs the question how much “freedom” is too much freedom for average civilians in the eyes of the government. Is “freedom of speech” more of a formality than an actual law that all Americans, and any other free citizen around the world, are just supposed to accept? 

It also has created a narrative surrounding the rights of professional athletes. Athletes are normally just viewed as entertainers who serve the purpose of showing their skills on the field, and bringing home trophies for off the field. Their voices don’t matter, their political views, opinions etc. none of it actually matters as long as they can play the game. 

However, the world is a place of constant debate, disagreement, and bigotry. When those with monumental platforms speak up against injustices, it opens up a conversation amongst everybody on any level of power. No matter what “side” they’re on, the fact that someone with such a huge following is strictly meant to play a game and remain silent, is archaic in itself. Especially when the athletes themselves are minorities, from the outside, restrictive guidelines such as these show that the IOC is only concerned with minority rights when it’s regarding their presence in the Olympic Games, and the ratings they can bring in. 

Diallo Brooks, the director of People for the American Way, a political advocacy group, created a Twitter thread this past week that opened up an entire conversation about the presence of minority bodies versus minority voices in sporting events. 

“Young men/women of color who play sports are more than just entertainers, and they should not be penalized for speaking out peacefully against injustice. They must be allowed to have a voice. And when their voices are threatened, we have to raise our own and stand with them.”