In Montana, a TikTok Ban Could Be a ‘Kick in the Face'

The social media site enacted a ban over fears that sensitive user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, which users were less than pleased about.

In Montana, a TikTok Ban Could Be a ‘Kick in the Face'


The ban was imposed because of fears that the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive data.

Eliza Fawcett & Jim Robbins

Jim Robbins reported live from Helena, Montana. Jacey Fawcett and Eliza Fortin reported from New York.

Christian Poole, a 20-year-old man from Montana, has declared himself to be 'the unofficial Ambassador for the State of Montana'

He posts humorous videos on TikTok, one of his favorite social media platforms, about the quirks of his state. Nearly 420,000 of his followers have rewarded him with hearts and laughing face emojis.

But when Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a law on Wednesday that made Montana the first state in the country to ban TikTok. Mr. Poole and hundreds of thousands users were left to try to understand the unlikely collision of TikTok users who are mostly young, with international geopolitics.

Poole's videos, posted in Bozeman, include topics such as cows outnumbering people in Montana and spring showers that bring graupel (frozen pellets) instead of rain. He claims he only posts for the fun of it, not to earn money. His goal on the app is to'make people laugh'.

He said that Mr. Poole was expecting the ban to be challenged in court, and he wasn't 'losing sleep' about it.

He also questioned whether it would be implemented, and the reasons given by the Republican governor who described the bill as 'the most definitive action taken by any state to prevent sensitive information and private data of Montanans from being harvested'.

Nothing happens here. "Nothing," said Mr. Poole on Thursday. He said, "There are no major players in the global politics of the United States or China who live in Montana."

If the law is upheld, it won't come into effect until next year.

Poole stated that it would remove all the hard work he has done in the past four years. It would be a real slap in the face to me.

Some young TikTok users were confused, but not outraged.

Abi Edgar, a 19-year-old who works in the Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop downtown Helena, said, "I don't know how they will enforce it." She claims to watch TikTok for hours, scrolling through Kpop videos or news reports. She said, 'I don't understand why they're banning it.'

Ellen McLean was also upset by the decision. She is a 19-year-old working in the same shop.

She said TikTok kept her busy when she was bored. It's lighter than other apps and people don’t care what they upload.


She said that the tourism industry in Montana would benefit from this. It's an excellent place to promote Yellowstone, Glacier and Big Sky.

Fans of the website are not all in their teens or twenties. Jeff Spurlin is 70 years old and runs a coffee and crepe shop in Helena. He said that his younger co-workers had introduced him to TikTok. He now uses it every day for cooking videos and fitness tips.

The ban was passed by a Republican-dominated Legislature, which he saw as reflecting the recent shift to the right in the state.

He said, 'In Montana, the current political climate doesn't shock me.' It's far-right and beyond conservative. It's a scary conservative.

Although some federal officials are concerned that TikTok - owned by ByteDance in China - could be used to share sensitive data with the Chinese government, Mr. Spurlin found it strange that Montana was leading the national effort to ban the app.

He speculated on the possibility that fears about Beijing's spying may have been exaggerated in February when a Chinese spy ballon passed over the state and attracted national attention.

Spurlin stated that the threat of China was real but it also brought on paranoia.

In recent years, TikTok has grown to be a popular public forum. It was once a place where people would share funny videos and dance moves. It's used to discuss politics and news, and sometimes to spread misinformation.

Montana users love hashtags such as #bigskycountry and #406 - the area code for the state. They post videos of urban scenes -- bars and bookshops in Missoula and Billings, for example -- along with expansive views of snowcapped mountains, rivers valleys, rolling hills, and sparkling lakes.

Some people have expressed concern that the app could be too addictive due to an algorithm that curates the experiences of each user based on their interactions with the videos that they view.

Lisa Kelley is a 42-year-old mother of two from Helena who said she was concerned about her children's use of social media. While social media can be a great tool for creativity and connecting with others, children are using it too much. I believe it is important to monitor and control their usage.

The critics of the ban claim that a TikTok ban in one state would be difficult to enforce and technologically complex.

Paul Kim, 22, from Missoula, said, 'I believe that if the State wants to stop people using TikTok they're going have to show a bit more tooth than they've shown so far.' He speculated state legislators might use the ban - and the legal challenges which are certain to follow - as a preview to see how similar legislation attempts might play across the country.


Mr. Kim, a civil rights activist and organizer who works for the American Civil Liberties Union, but did not speak on behalf of that organization, stated that the TikTok algorithms had helped him to connect with people who shared the same interests.

He said he uses TikTok for watching videos, not posting them. He has still appeared on the platform: A widely circulated video last month showed Mr. Kim being detained in Helena for demonstrating in support of Zooey Zephyr, his House Representative. Ms. Zephyr was banned from the House Floor after making passionate arguments against a bill that would have prohibited hormone treatments and surgery for transgender children. The bill was signed into law later.

Mr. Kim enjoys researching Montana's Chinese history. He said that the TikTok Ban was in line with the recurring theme of state politics. Politicians from both parties have played up geopolitical fears about Beijing.

The blend of Montana TikTok and international relations videos felt mismatched by the end of the day.

Spurlin, after discussing the tensions between China and the United States on Thursday, said: "I was talking to an employee about escalators." "And he told me, 'There is a Costco store in California that has an escalator. And I asked, "How did you know this?" He replied, "I saw it on TikTok."