Summer 2022, I decided to launch my website after being banned on Instagram from reels play after posting an comedic meme which included Kanye West. It was very apparent to me that my content was not my own, and I needed a place for my content to live aside from Instagram and other social media outlets. 

Over the last few years, the popular social media app, TikTok, has exploded among millennials and gen Z, so much that creators are making millions of dollars from their content on the platform. 

Recently, Montana has enacted a ban on the social video app TikTok, becoming the first U.S. state to do so at a state level​​. The ban, which will not take effect until 2024, was introduced to protect Montana residents’ personal and private data from being harvested by the Chinese Communist party, according to the state’s governor, Greg Gianforte​.

The ban specifically targets app stores such as those run by Google and Apple, prohibiting them from hosting TikTok. If the platform continues to operate in the state after the ban takes effect, TikTok itself could be hit with a significant fine. The bill does not target individual users, so they would not be fined, but the threat of a $10,000 a day fine for the companies is expected to encourage compliance​.

However, enforcing the ban may prove challenging. There are many ways for users to evade geographic bans on the open web, including using a VPN service, signing up for accounts using prepaid cards and rented mailboxes. Completely blocking access to the app would be nearly impossible unless Montana decided to follow the route of countries such as Iran or China and greatly limit access to such services​​.

The ban has sparked controversy and legal actions. A group of TikTok creators has already sued to block the ban, arguing that it violates their first amendment rights. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has described the ban as “unconstitutional”.

More recently, TikTok itself has sued Montana over the ban. The company argued in its lawsuit that the ban violates the First Amendment by shutting down a forum for speech and singling out TikTok users for “disfavored treatment.” TikTok also stated that the ban is preempted by federal law because it is attempting to address an issue rooted in national security that is handled by the U.S. government​.

The ban does not prevent current users from accessing the app or penalize them for doing so, but it threatens entities such as TikTok, Google, and Apple with a significant fine for each day that the platform remains accessible in app stores for users in Montana. TikTok serves hundreds of thousands of users in Montana and more than 5,000 businesses​.

While the Montana ban is the first of its kind in the U.S., TikTok has been banned in other countries as well. For instance, India banned the app in 2020, citing dangerous user challenges that had led to deaths, although critics argued that the ban was more motivated by geopolitical considerations. Interestingly, TikTok is also banned in China itself, with a sister app called Douyin, also owned by TikTok’s parent company Bytedance, operating in the country with much firmer moderation​. 

The ban’s actual enforcement and its implications remain to be seen as the controversy unfolds and the legal battles continue. State officials will be able to enforce the law by observing whether app stores display TikTok for users in Montana, and the relevant companies should be largely capable of identifying where users reside and denying access accordingly​. 

I’m not saying to avoid posting content on these platforms, they can be great revenue drivers for creators. However, it’s important to have a place where your content lives that is your own, and not in the hands of the government or social media platforms. 

My advice to creators with the volatility of social media income is this: learn to create your own website or invest in someone who can build one for you, where you have the rights to everything.