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TikTok Users File First Amendment Lawsuit Against US Government Ban

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Eight TikTok content creators have launched a lawsuit against the US government, challenging a new federal law that could potentially ban the social media platform nationwide. This legal action, echoing TikTok’s own lawsuit filed this month, asserts that the law infringes on the creators’ First Amendment rights to free speech. The outcome of this case could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs represent a broad group, including a rancher from Texas who has featured in TikTok ads, an Arizona creator who advocates for “LGBTQ” issues, and a business owner who sells skincare products through TikTok Shop. They argue that TikTok is crucial for their expression, education, advocacy, and livelihoods. “They have found their voices, amassed significant audiences, made new friends, and encountered new and different ways of thinking — all because of TikTok’s novel way of hosting, curating, and disseminating speech,” the lawsuit states. The creators contend that the new law would strip them and others of this unique platform for communication.

We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.

TikTok is financing the legal expenses for this lawsuit, which was filed in the US Court of Appeals for Washington, DC, by the same law firm that contested Montana’s ban on the platform last year—a ban that was blocked by a judge.

The Department of Justice defends the legislation, claiming it addresses significant national security concerns in a manner consistent with constitutional rights. US lawmakers and officials have raised concerns about the security of user data and the potential for TikTok to manipulate content on behalf of China, or allow China to spy on users; allegations that TikTok denies.

Under the new law, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, must sell its US stakes within nine months, with a possible three-month extension if a sale is underway. Despite this, TikTok and ByteDance argue in their lawsuit that divesting the US operations is unfeasible, predicting a complete shutdown by January 19, 2025. They emphasize that separating the US platform from the global network would be impractical and that the Chinese government, which must approve any sale, opposes selling the recommendation algorithm central to TikTok’s success.

Related: The Dangerous Language and First Amendment Challenges of the Rushed Anti-TikTok Bill

Brian Firebaugh, a rancher from Hubbard, Texas, is among the creators suing the government. Starting his TikTok account in 2020, he leveraged the platform to market his cattle-related products, amassing over 430,000 followers and transforming it into a full-time income. TikTok has also enabled him to foster an online community, participate in a Netflix show, and afford adoption for his son.

Chloe Joy Sexton, another plaintiff, is a content creator from Memphis, Tennessee, who turned to TikTok after losing her job four years ago. Her cookie business, Chloe’s Giant Cookies, gained traction on TikTok, where she now has over 2 million followers.

The creators seek a court declaration deeming the law unconstitutional and an injunction to prevent Attorney General Merrick Garland from enforcing it, advocating for their rights to freely express themselves and sustain their livelihoods through TikTok.

Here are key points from the lawsuit:

Nature of the Complaint: The petitioners describe TikTok as an “irreplaceable means to express themselves and form community” and argue that the Act will “shutter a discrete medium of communication,” violating the First Amendment by restricting their ability to create, publish, and interact with content on TikTok.

Claims of the Act’s Supporters: Lawmakers backing the Act claimed TikTok manipulates American minds and disseminates propaganda. For instance, Rep. Mike Flood argued that TikTok is used to “undermine our love for liberty.”

Personal Impact Statements from Petitioners: Brian Firebaugh, a rancher and former Marine, uses TikTok to support his livelihood and community engagement. He states, “If you ban TikTok, you ban my way of life,” emphasizing how the platform’s shutdown would force him to alter his living and community support drastically.

Constitutional and Legal Challenges: The lawsuit argues that the Act constitutes a prior restraint on speech, which is “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights” and faces a “heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.”

Arguments Against the Act’s Justifications: The petitioners contend that the government’s data security concerns, used to justify the ban, are speculative and were previously deemed insufficient by courts to justify a ban on TikTok.

Request for Relief: The petitioners request the court to declare the Act invalid under the US Constitution, enjoin the enforcement of the Act, and affirm their rights to free expression.

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