BILLINGS — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill banning TikTok from the state starting in January 2024, but it's unclear how this act will prevent Montanans from using the popular social media app.
The law makes the state the first in the country to ban downloads and usage of the app. Platforms such as Apple or Google that allow users to download the app would face fines of $10,000 per day. Users will not be fined.
“My opinion, for what it’s worth, is this is purely a political move of the state," Denver-based CEO of Turnkey Cybersecurity Mitch Tanenbaum said Thursday.
The bill passed the Montana House 54-43 before it was sent to Gianforte. The bill was backed by Republicans, who held a supermajority during the last legislative session.
Opponents of the bill filed a lawsuit Thursday to block the ban.
Tanenbaum said anyone who wants to use TikTok will either download the app before the ban takes effect or use a virtual private network, or VPN, to download it in Montana outside of regulatory control. A VPN masks a person’s location to avoid content restrictions.
“If they ever were to try to regulate ByteDance (TikTok's parent company), or TikTok, directly you know they would go off and say, 'well, to us it looked like he was in London so it doesn’t apply,'” Tanenbaum said. "You can’t go off and take something which is inherently international and regulate it on a state basis. It just is not going to be effective.”
Supporters of the law said it's a move that will protect people from having information stolen by a foreign company and young users from being exposed to dangerous content.
“There’s a lot of dangerous trends that they do on TikTok that causes kids to get hurt, and there’s a lot of pornography that they get exposed to, which scares me,” Billings student-teacher Nathan Wylie said. “I think it’s good that it’s getting banned. I’ve never been for TikTok, so I just think it’s good.”
Montana state Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter, a Democrat of Billings, said she voted no on the bill multiple times before it was signed into law.
“Constitutionally, this bill is a mess,” Kerr-Carpenter said. “I’m not a huge fan of TikTok, but I’m also not a huge fan of social media apps in general for a variety of reasons.”
Kerr-Carpenter also questions how the law will be enforced and when the legality of the bill will be challenged.
“Technologically, I don’t think it’s enforceable. I don’t know how you would prevent a million people from accessing the platform," she said. "In our Montana Constitution, there’s a piece that says we can’t make laws about one particular company or organization, and this flies completely in the face of that.”