Eight TikTok creators sue U.S. government over potential ban

Eight TikTok creators sued the U.S. government on Tuesday, arguing that a new law forcing the sale or ban of the popular video-sharing app violates their First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., claims that the law “bans an entire medium of communication and all the speech communicated through that medium, even though, at the very least, the vast majority of that speech is protected.” The 33-page complaint, first reported by The Washington Post, follows a similar lawsuit filed by TikTok against the federal government, also citing concerns over free speech.

Signed into law last month by President Joe Biden, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act—pushed forward with bipartisan support after years of congressional scrutiny against TikTok—would ban the app from the U.S. market if its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, does not divest it.

The lawsuit describes TikTok as an essential “part of American life.”

The creators suing the government come from various states and backgrounds. All eight 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 group includes Brian Firebaugh, a rancher in Texas; Chloe Joy Sexton, a Tennessee baker; Talia Cadet, a book reviewer in D.C.; Timothy Martin, a college football coach in North Dakota; Kiera Spann, a political activist in North Carolina; Paul Tran, a skincare brand founder in Georgia; Topher Townsend, a rapper in Mississippi; and Steven King, a comedy creator in Arizona.

The ban “threatens to deprive them, and the rest of the country, of this distinctive means of expression and communication,” the suit argues.

Many of the creators have posted videos expressing their concerns, suggesting that a TikTok ban could threaten their livelihoods, as they have built large communities on the platform. The lawsuit notes that all the plaintiffs “have tried using other social media apps, with far less success.” For example, Sexton began making videos on TikTok after losing her job in 2020 and now has over 2.2 million followers. She launched a cookie company and published a cookbook due to her success on the app. “Losing the platform would be losing not only my income but my most effective means of connecting with people around the world,” she said in a statement. “I’m proud to be part of this lawsuit and to stand up for everyone who counts on TikTok like I do.”

TikTok, which has 170 million American users, has been under scrutiny by lawmakers for several years. Supporters of the law warn that the platform is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and poses a national security threat to the United States. However, TikTok argues in its lawsuit that national security concerns do not justify restricting free speech, and that the government has not met the burden of proof to warrant such a restriction.

Tuesday’s lawsuit describes the aim of the ban as “content-based, viewpoint-based, and speaker-based,” citing multiple instances of U.S. congressional members suggesting without evidence that TikTok disseminates Chinese government propaganda or promotes “anti-American” and “anti-Israel” messaging.

The Justice Department defended the legislation, stating, “This legislation addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations. We look forward to defending the legislation in court.”

When asked for comment on the new legal action, a spokesperson for TikTok directed NBC News to the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, which is representing the group. The firm has previously represented TikTok creators in similar cases. After Montana became the first state to issue a TikTok ban last year, five content creators sued the state, resulting in a federal judge blocking the ban, citing constitutional violations.

In 2020, the firm also represented creators who sued the U.S. government over then-President Donald Trump’s executive order banning TikTok, which was also blocked by a federal judge.

TikTok financed the plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the Montana case and will do so again in this latest federal case. “Our clients rely on TikTok to express themselves, learn, and find community. They hope to vindicate not only their First Amendment rights, but the rights of the other approximately 170 million Americans who also use TikTok,” said Ambika Kumar, the lead attorney on the case. “The ban is a pernicious attack on free speech that is contrary to the nation’s founding principles.”

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