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TikTok Ban in Montana Draws Suit From Ranch Mom, Marine, Student

(Bloomberg) -- A diverse group of Montana TikTok creators with hundreds of thousands of followers sued to challenge the first statewide ban of the popular app, arguing the law violates free-speech rights and will disrupt their livelihoods.

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The state’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, signed a measure Wednesday that will prohibit the app’s download by the general public beginning next year.

The law “attempts to exercise powers over national security that Montana does not have and to ban speech Montana may not suppress,” according to the complaint, which seeks a court order blocking the ban from taking effect.

The suit was brought on behalf of Montanans who use TikTok for entertainment but also places a particular emphasis on users who earn income from the platform, and are making “life decisions” based on it.

One of them, Samantha Alario, a mother of two living in Missoula, owns a small business that designs and sells sustainable swimwear, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Missoula. Using TikTok to promote her company and communicate with customers has “taken her business to new heights,” according to the suit.

Davis Wright Tremaine, the law firm that filed the suit, won a similar case in 2020 in which a federal judge in Pennsylvania blocked a broad set of TikTok restrictions proposed by the Trump administration. Ambika Kumar, one of the lawyers on the case, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new Montana law will impose the broadest and strictest limitations on use of the social media platform yet, spurred by widespread governmental concerns about the Chinese government’s access to American users’ personal data.

While Montana is the first state to prohibit the general public from using the app, targeted bans focusing on government devices and networks cascaded across the country late last year. The US government and 38 states have issued such bans and President Joe Biden’s administration is in negotiations with TikTok to resolve national security concerns. The European Union, UK, Canada, and a handful of other countries have more recently imposed similar restrictions.

Read More: Montana to Bar TikTok as Governor Signs First Statewide Ban

One of the plaintiffs, Carly Ann Goddard, who lives in Custer with her husband, a rancher, and their young child, uses TikTok to share content about parenting, recipes and home décor. With more than 95,000 followers, Custer has been able to triple her family’s household income, according to the complaint. The couple are waiting to have more children and holding off on other decisions until they learn if they’ll be able to maintain the income from TikTok.

Heather DiRocco, a former US Marine Corps sergeant in Bozeman, says she uses the platform to connect with other veterans and create content on topics including comedy, makeup and mental health. She has more than 200,000 followers.

Alice Held, a student in applied physiology in Missoula, has more than 215,000 followers for her posts about outdoor adventures such as mountain climbing, biking, and camping.

Gianforte’s office didn’t respond to phone and email messages seeking comment after regular business hours.

The case is Alario v. Knudsen, 23-cv-00056, US District Court, District of Montana (Missoula).

(Updates with details on plaintiffs.)

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