In its fight to remain active in Montana, TikTok has been found to be funding the lawsuit filed by TikTok influencers in the state. The social media platform has reportedly been paying legal fees to help its users sustain the case in court with the hope of having the state-wide ban lifted.
TikTok Secretly Backs Its Influencers
Last month, Montana through its governor Gov. Greg Gianforte placed a ban on the controversial TikTok app due to the allegations that the app’s company collects and shares users’ personal data with the Chinese government.
BREAKING: Montana BANS TikTok
Montana Governor signed a bill banning TikTok in the state and prohibiting downloads of the app.
The ban, set to take effect Jan 1, could face legal challenges while influencing a nationwide TikTok prohibition under consideration in Washington.… pic.twitter.com/zSnghzkDiX
— Mario Nawfal (@MarioNawfal) May 18, 2023
While many states had taken measures against the app such as restricting its use on government devices, none had taken such a strong measure against the social media platform.
As a result, there was a rise of mixed feelings many of which were from TikTok users who were against the move. 24 hours later, a group of 5 users filed a lawsuit against State claiming the violation of their First Amendment Rights.
In the lawsuit, the creators stated that the ban violated their right to speech while also suppressing their source of livelihood. The plaintiff consists of a veteran, a business owner, a rancher’s wife, a student, and a full-time creator, who all except the student generate their income from the platform.
However, for a while, neither the TikTok users nor the company revealed that TikTok was financing the lawsuit. In fact, the social media platform dodged any questions about its involvement with the lawsuit.
TikTok Is Funding Montana Users’ Lawsuit Against Ban https://t.co/RzcUIV7hAY
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) June 28, 2023
It was not until two of the users confirmed that the company was paying for the lawsuit that the company came forward to acknowledge its involvement. Through its spokesperson, Jodi Seth, TikTok said:
“Many creators have expressed major concerns both privately and publicly about the potential impact of the Montana law on their livelihoods. We support our creators in fighting for their constitutional rights.”
The creators, however, clarified that TikTok only paid for the legal fees but was not giving them any sort of compensation for their role in the lawsuit.
The Winning Move
It is no surprise that TikTok would play a part in the lawsuit as it has done so before. In 2020 when President Donald Trump banned the app from the country, TikTok employed the same strategy which successfully got the ban lifted.
The strategy entailed centering the ban around the app’s users and showing how it affects them and their income. Similar to the Montana case, TikTok also funded the lawsuit that was filed by users then. This user representation suggests that the app is more than just a platform enabling TikTok to remain operational in the country.
This time, aside from funding the lawsuit, TikTok brought its users in front of politicians and in its marketing in an effort to humanize the app across the country and in Montana. The company flew TikTok celebrities to Capitol Hill in March when its top executive appeared before Congress.
Moreover, it featured creators in its latest “TikTok Sparks Good” campaign which highlights the positive impact the platform has had on its users.
Note that the company is not required to reveal any cases it is funding. However, considering the action is not illegal, the fact that the company hid it stains its look a bit. Arguably, the company could have feared that revealing it was funding the legal pursuit would affect its public perception or even its outcome.
The Attorney General’s office however confirmed that the act should not and will not affect the trajectory of the case. On the other hand, the spokesperson, Emily Flower, seems to have drawn a different conclusion already.
“TikTok’s ‘support’ is bought and paid for – Montanans recognize the threat that the app poses to their privacy and national security because it is owned by a company that answers to the Chinese Communist Party.”
In addition to this lawsuit, TikTok also filed its own lawsuit to increase its chances of winning this battle. The ban is expected to take effect on 1 January next year. As such, the company has plenty of time to either get it lifted or delayed.
No matter what happens it will be a fascinating result that will set a tremendously important precedent.
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