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TikTok Sues US Government Over Sale or Ban Law

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TikTok Sues US Government Over Sale or Ban Law

After the United States passed a bill to ban TikTok unless sold to a US firm, the company decided to sue the US government for First Amendment rights.

TikTok says US ban is unconstitutional

US-American TikTok users have been worried about the future of their platform of choice. Not too long ago, the US government passed a bill that will ban the app in the future unless it is sold to a US company. The bipartisan decision was made in a broader context of geopolitical tensions between the US, China, and their allies, with TikTok being accused of handing over user data to the Chinese government. According to the US government, such practices pose a substantial security risk to its citizens. Further accusations revolve around TikTok's potential influence on political matters and misinformation.

Meanwhile, users and activists argue that the ban infringes on free speech and access to information, mainly because many (young) people get their news from TikTok. Because the app is one of the few platforms that is not wholly owned and regulated by US decision-makers, it allows them to engage with various forms of political discourse, including that which is not in line with US policymaking. They also highlight the hypocrisy of policymaking on US-American apps, which gather data and censor/limit political content.

Now, TikTok has filed a complaint with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, arguing that the law is "unconstitutional." Music Business Worldwide has published the document where the petitioners express their grievances. They begin with the following words:

“Congress has taken the unprecedented step of expressly singling out and banning TikTok: a vibrant online forum for protected speech and expression used by 170 million Americans to create, share, and view videos over the Internet.”

TikTok says it recognizes concerns related to limitations on free speech, arguing that a ban or sale:

“would allow the government to decide that a company may no longer own and publish the innovative and unique speech platform it created. If Congress can do this, it can circumvent the First Amendment by invoking national security and ordering the publisher of any individual newspaper or website to sell to avoid being shut down. And for TikTok, any such divestiture would disconnect Americans from the rest of the global community on a platform devoted to shared content — an outcome fundamentally at odds with the Constitution’s commitment to both free speech and individual liberty.”

From a technological standpoint, the company believes it would take years for a new owner to render the app functional, even more so without the technology provided by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance. From an economic standpoint, the petitioners explain that just like the US, the Chinese government “regulates the export of certain technologies” developed within its borders. As a result, a sale would not be permitted.

TikTok lists many other reasons why it considers the bill unconstitutional and contestable. For those interested, we recommend looking into the original document linked above. But what are the chances of TikTok winning the court case?

Although the bill to ban TikTok has already been signed, the company seems confident it can still win the court case. This is partly because it can rely on previous decisions made in favor of the company. In November 2023, a court blocked an attempt to ban the app in Montana. Moreover, it has previously won twice against executive orders launched by Trump. For now, TikTok has 270 days to sell the app before it gets banned. What will happen next, however, is still unclear.

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