With legislation targeting the regulation or outright banning of TikTok in American jurisdictions, there’s a lot going on—which is why we’re providing a TikTok ban update. Below, we’ll cover what TikTok is, a quick run-down on the current TikTok-related legislation in the United States, and the potential implications of these legislative changes.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a highly popular social media platform. ByteDance, a Chinese internet technology company, acquired TikTok (formerly known as Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app) in 2018.
TikTok enables users to generate, view, and distribute short-form videos. Renowned for its distinctive recommendation system, TikTok’s algorithm determines the videos displayed on a user’s feed by analyzing their past viewing preferences and the accounts and hashtags they follow.
Though TikTok may have begun as a lip-syncing app, TikTok has grown into a content creation platform, where users put together funny sketches, entertainment and dance videos, and even educational content, covering topics from mental health to investing. As a result, TikTok has spawned thousands of online communities, including LawTok.
Why is TikTok so popular? One reason for its popularity is its addictive nature. When a user opens TikTok, videos start playing one-by-one, and they get immersed in a sea of content. Additionally, TikTok enables anyone, regardless of their background, to create content effortlessly. Therefore, even lawyers who may lack marketing experience but desire to utilize the platform for brand growth or connecting with other legal professionals can easily begin.
TikTok bans: A brief summary
The United States has enacted several laws that either outright ban TikTok or possess the potential to do so. Let’s delve into them in more detail.
The RESTRICT Act
On March 7, 2023, Congress introduced a bipartisan bill that empowers the Secretary of Commerce to ban companies associated with “foreign adversaries” from operating in the United States. According to the current text of the bill, “foreign adversaries” are classified as:
- China (including Hong Kong and Macau)
- Venezuela (under the regime of Nicolás Maduro Moros)
The RESTRICT Act does not explicitly mention TikTok. However, the text of the proposed bill would provide the secretary of Commerce with the authority to ban TikTok in the United States. This has led to speculation that a nationwide TikTok ban is on the way.
As of June 2023, the RESTRICT Act has been read twice by the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
No TikTok on Government Devices Act
On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act into law. Originally introduced in the Senate in 2020, this law prevents federal employees from downloading or using TikTok on federal government and government corporation devices.
Montana TikTok ban
In May of 2023, Montana became the first American state to enact a TikTok ban. This law—which comes into effect on January 1, 2024—prohibits “entities” (such as Apple and Google) from allowing others to access or download TikTok in Montana.
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Why is TikTok being banned?
What could short-form videos do to draw such ire from the United States government? It has less to do with the platform’s content and more to do with security concerns.
These concerns stem from the fear that the Chinese government could order TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, to share user data, resulting in exposure of Western security interests. And, in fact, there are allegations (currently being investigated by the Justice Department) that TikTok has been using TikTok data to spy on American journalists.
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- Profile information, including usernames, passwords, birth dates, contact information, and any information disclosed in a user’s profile.
- User content, including uploaded photographs, audio, and videos.
- Messages sent or received through the platform’s messaging functionalities.
- Purchase information, including payment cards, billing, delivery, contact information, and items purchased.
Additionally, the platform collects how users engage with the platform, inferred information, technical information (e.g., IP addresses, time zone settings, mobile carriers, and keystroke patterns), location information, and more.
Legal challenges to TikTok bans
Unsurprisingly, TikTok bans are already facing their share of legal challenges (and more are sure to come).
TikTok has already filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana, claiming that the TikTok ban violates the First Amendment and other federal laws. The company also asserts that concerns about China’s access to US TikTok user data in Montana are “unfounded.”
However, TikTok isn’t the only entity suing Montana over the TikTok ban.
For example, five Montana-based TikTok content creators have filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana under similar grounds.
As these lawsuits are still making their way through the courts, time will tell what impact—if any—they will have on the Montana TikTok ban.
When will authorities ban TikTok?
The ban on TikTok in Montana will take effect on January 1, 2024, unless the numerous legal actions filed regarding the ban overturn it.
It is challenging to determine when or if TikTok will face a ban in a specific jurisdiction in the United States. While federal government employees are prohibited from downloading TikTok on their devices, the rest of the country currently has access to TikTok for use.
TikTok ban update: Our final thoughts
With an impending TikTok ban in Montana, bans on government devices, and the potential implications of the RESTRICT Act (to say nothing of the legal challenges), there’s going to be a lot to follow in the coming months.
Nevertheless, these legal challenges raise interesting questions regarding governments’ abilities to ban free speech and expression or otherwise censor individuals. As TikTok has gained immense popularity as a social media platform, we expect that significant resistance will meet any subsequent bans. Until then, we’ll continue to watch this space to see how a TikTok ban might impact lawyers using TikTok.
Regardless of the social media platforms you use (now or in the future), be mindful of your ethical obligations on any social media platform. Never share specific case details and be mindful of interacting with clients (for example, inadvertently initiating a lawyer-client relationship) when interacting online.
Above all, be sure to consider using online social media platforms that will help you drive business. Learn more in The Ultimate Social Media Playbook for Lawyers, our comprehensive resource on social media.
We published this blog post in June 2023. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Technology