TikTok, the widely popular short-form video app, has recently emerged victorious in two crucial legal battles, casting doubt on efforts by its critics to impose restrictions. A state judge in Indiana dismissed a lawsuit against the app, while a federal judge in Montana blocked a statewide ban, a move that was unprecedented in the US.
These early-stage legal outcomes signify a pivotal clash between the politically charged atmosphere surrounding TikTok and the foundational principles of American law. In both Indiana and Montana, the attempts to regulate TikTok faltered under basic legal scrutiny, failing to meet standards such as compliance with the First Amendment or even establishing court jurisdiction.
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, commented to CNN on the nature of these state efforts, describing them as “pretextual and designed for political theater”. These developments underscore the challenges facing policymakers in crafting legal approaches that effectively address their concerns about the app.
The Complexity of Regulating TikTok
The origins of the legal cases in Indiana and Montana differ, yet both reflect widespread apprehensions about TikTok's connections to China through its parent company, ByteDance. US officials have raised alarms about potential Chinese government access to TikTok's US user data, but concrete evidence supporting these claims has yet to be publicly disclosed.
The Montana case, in particular, brought into focus the implications for TikTok's users. District Judge Donald Molloy highlighted in his ruling the detrimental impact of a statewide ban on users' First Amendment rights and their income streams.
“In shutting off TikTok, the Legislature has both harmed User Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights and cut off a stream of income on which many rely. Thus, Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of irreparable harm,” wrote Molloy.
Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, remarked on the Montana ruling, emphasizing the high constitutional bar set against mass censorship in the United States.
As TikTok continues to navigate the complex legal and political landscape in the US, these court victories represent significant milestones, challenging the narrative and legality of restrictions aimed at the platform.