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TikTok confirms it is funding creator-led lawsuit against Montana ban

By | Published on Thursday 29 June 2023


TikTok is funding the lawsuit that has been filed by users of the app against an impending ban in the US state of Montana. A spokesperson for the social media firm confirmed to the New York Times that: “We support our creators in fighting for their constitutional rights”.

Five TikTok creators are involved in the litigation, filed with the courts in May, which argues that a decision by lawmakers in Montana to ban use of the video-sharing app from the start of next year violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution. TikTok itself has also filed its own lawsuit.

The ban in Montana is a response to ongoing concerns in political circles that the Chinese government has access to TikTok user-data via the app’s China-based owner Bytedance. TikTok, of course, continues to deny there are any data security issues on its platform.

Some of the Montana-based creators involved in the lawsuit against the TikTok ban have spoken to the NYT. One of them, Heather DiRocco, revealed that she was approached by TikTok’s lawyers about participating in the litigation after posting videos to the platform in which she criticised the ban.

Her response to that approach, she told the newspaper, was: “You know what, I would love to help out with this, because I already don’t like it, I’m already advocating for it on my channel”.

Law firm Davis Wright Tremaine is leading the legal action and has confirmed that it contacted a number of TikTok creators in Montana who had spoken out about the ban. One of the lawyers working on the case, Ambika Kumar, insisted in a statement to the NYT that “the fact that TikTok is paying for the suit is irrelevant to the legal merits of the case”.

According to the Wall Street Journal, TikTok adopted a similar strategy when fighting then US President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok back in 2020, ie filing its own lawsuit but also financing creator-led litigation.

Having individual TikTok creators fight the ban in court – as well as TikTok itself – may have legal benefits, and there is definite value in terms of public perception.

Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, told to the NYT: “TikTok is an American company and has First Amendment rights, but there has been rhetoric in Montana and the federal government suggesting that TikTok’s connections to China mean it’s not an ordinary First Amendment actor”.

But the creator-led lawsuit “really emphasises that this isn’t just about the rights of TikTok, let alone the rights of Bytedance. It’s about the rights of TikTok’s users, including its American users, and I think that’s a really important point to make”.