Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill last week to ban TikTok in the state.
He cited security concerns and an intention to “protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist party.” TikTok has responded by saying that this bill infringes on the First Amendment, and that they intend to fight for the rights of their Montana users.
While security threats exist (they do with all social media apps), the ban could also have serious implications to those who rely on TikTok for their livelihoods. Many people—specifically self-employed content creators—depend on TikTok to promote their businesses. And if Montana is a harbinger of rising anti-TikTok (aka anti-China) sentiment, they could indeed be in trouble.
I have limited personal experience using TikTok. I’m relatively new to the app and don’t depend on it professionally, but I link to all my work on every social media app. I’ve had people introduce themselves to me at shows after finding me on TikTok, and I’m looking forward to engaging more with it. However, despite being a TikTok newcomer, what I am familiar with is depending on a social media app to promote my business—and, more specifically, finding my life turned upside down every time it changes.
Twitter used to be an incredibly useful promotional tool for me. While it still is, to an extent, I’ve also experienced declining engagement on my tweets since Elon Musk took over. I feel powerless at the hands of an individual who owns the entire app, and I feel silly for thinking it was ever otherwise. I have no control over Twitter—I’m simply a user. I became self-employed to take control of my career, but I’m often reminded of just how little control I have.
So, I can understand the fear that TikTokers may feel at the prospect of further bans. The top TikTok accounts can expect to earn anywhere from $100,000-$250,000 for a branded video. Kylie Nelson, a Billings-based creatorquit her job to become a TikTok influencer and expected to make $60,000 in the year 2023. She’s not the only TikToker in Montana who has expressed alarm at the ban. Indeed, five TikTok creators submitted a lawsuit against Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen over the ban. One of the five creators is a small business owner who designs swimwear and relies on TikTok to market their product.
Should TikTok creators everywhere be concerned? Montana was among a number of states who indicated a desire to ban TikTok—it was simply the first to act. I can understand why content creators everywhere are nervous. TikTok has 100 million users in the United States, and 200,000 people on Montana alone. If the dominoes start falling, that’s quite a few people who will be impacted.
But there’s time. The ban doesn’t go into effect until January 1st, 2024—much can change between now and then, and the ruling is expected to be challenged in court. “Because Montana can’t establish that the ban is necessary or tailored to any legitimate interest, the law is almost certain to be struck down as unconstitutional,” says Jameel Jeffer, the executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia.
So, the fate of Montanan TikTokers is unclear. And while it’s possible the ban will never take effect, it’s also possible that the animosity towards TikTok will continue to grow. I’ve always thought it would be ironic if all other social media apps get torn apart and we wind up back on MySpace. Get ready, Tom.