Montana’s TikTok ban throws users into a new era of uncertainty | CNN Business
Keri Williams wouldn’t have her business without TikTok. He launched The Branded Pinto, his custom hat shop, about two years ago after a video he shared of one of his creations “blow up” on TikTok. Almost all of their business still comes from the platform.
But earlier this week, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill banning TikTok in the state. Now Williams, who lives near Montana’s largest city, Billings, is struggling to figure out the future of his business.
“I’ve been trying to get some people on Instagram in case something horrible happens, where people suddenly can’t access my TikTok,” she told CNN, “but I’m not really sure how that’s going to work.”
During the past year, Lawmakers in Washington have stepped up scrutiny of TikTok, with a growing number of members of Congress calling for a national ban on the short-form video app over concerns about its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance.
But with the signing of the bill this week, Montana became the first U.S. state to impose a full ban on the app, almost immediately throwing residents like Williams into a new era of uncertainty that could spread in other parts of the country if there were more states or the federal government took similar measures.
The law, which will take effect in January, has already been the subject of a lawsuit by a group of TikTok users who claim it infringes on their First Amendment rights. Legal and technology experts have also raised questions about how the law can be enforced. But some residents are still bracing for the aftermath.
“It would definitely be a real kick in the face for me to, like, lose out of the blue overnight,” Christian W. Poole, who calls himself “the unofficial ambassador for the state of Montana,” told CNN ” on TikTok, on CNN. effect
Poole has amassed a following of over 400,000 people who tune into his mostly Montana comedy videos. Poole said he makes “grocery” money from TikTok, but does it as a “fun hobby” and to make friends.
If he lost all the friends he made over the past four years, and all the content he spent much of his free time creating for his fellow Montanans, “That would be bullshit,” he said.
The push to take action against TikTok has been months, if not years, in the making. Criticism of TikTok increased last year after a BuzzFeed News report said some US user data had been repeatedly accessed from China and quoted an employee as alleging: “Everything is voice in China”.
TikTok later confirmed that some employees in China can access some US user data, but has repeatedly denied that the Chinese government has requested its user data.
TikTok, like other social media platforms, has also come under scrutiny in Washington for its potential negative impacts on young users, as well as fears that its algorithms could lead users to potentially harmful topics, including posts related to the suicide and eating disorders.
But it looks like the app’s audience is still growing. TikTok said in March that it has 150 million monthly active users in the United States, up from 100 million users in 2020, when the Trump administration first threatened to ban the service.
TikTok has served as a lifeline for many to connect with others and for businesses to reach customers. Some of those Montana users are now frustrated with their local lawmakers.
“They just think that China is going to come and steal all of our information is what I got from everything,” Williams said after reading the news of the ban. “But they’re some people’s real livelihoods, and they’re like, willy-nilly, with no plans and no way to enforce anything.”
“To me, I just see a bunch of old people who have no idea what TikTok is,” Williams said. “My main concern is that I just spent a ton of money on all my hat-making stuff, and now I’m not going to have, like, any customers.”
Taylor Reed of Kalispell, Montana, similarly told CNN that he launched his home painting business, Reed Painting, during the pandemic with the help of TikTok. He said he taught himself how to use TikTok after reading about 60 books on small business marketing.
“What we found was that TikTok gave us a way to be more competitive with less advertising money,” he said. “It really opened a lot of doors for us in our company,” he added, including sponsorship deals with major companies like Benjamin Moore.
While he’s still skeptical the law will end up going into effect, and believes the data privacy concerns cited by lawmakers “are not unique to TikTok,” Reed said this week’s signing “was a good wake-up call. to diversify into other platforms.”
He said he hasn’t been able to find the same reach on other channels like Facebook’s Reels, and also finds it difficult to edit videos without the features of the TikTok app, so he’ll likely end up hiring an outside videographer.
For now, Reed said he’ll continue using TikTok “for as long as we can.” But, he said, “we’re definitely going to push into other platforms. We’re not going to pigeonhole ourselves into just this one.”