TikTok content creators sue US gov’t over law that could ban popular platform

Eight TikTok content creators sued the United States government on Tuesday, issuing another challenge to the new federal law that would ban the popular social media platform nationwide if its China-based parent company doesn’t sell its stakes within a year.

Attorneys for the creators argued in the lawsuit that the law violates users’ First Amendment rights to free speech, echoing legal arguments made by TikTok in a separate lawsuit filed by the company last week. The legal challenge could end up before the Supreme Court.

The complaint filed Tuesday comes from a diverse set of content creators, including a Texas-based rancher who has previously appeared in a TikTok commercial, a creator in Arizona who uses TikTok to show his daily life and spread awareness about LGBTQ issues as well as a business owner who sells skincare products on TikTok Shop, the e-commerce arm of the platform.

The lawsuit said the creators “rely on TikTok to express themselves, learn, advocate for causes, share opinions, create communities, and even make a living.”

“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,” it added, arguing the new law would deprive them and the rest of the country “of this distinctive means of expression and communication.”

A spokesperson for TikTok said the company was covering the legal costs for the lawsuit, which was filed in a Washington appeals court. It is being led by the same law firm that represented creators who challenged Montana’s state-wide ban on the platform last year. In November, a judge blocked that law from going into effect.

The federal law comes at a time of intense strategic rivalry between the US and China on a host of issues and as the two have continued to butt heads over sensitive geopolitical topics like China’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

US lawmakers and other administration officials have aired concerns about how well TikTok can protect users’ data from Chinese authorities and have argued its algorithm could be used to spread pro-China propaganda, which TikTok disputes.

Under the law, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance would be required to sell the platform to an approved buyer within nine months. If a sale is in progress, the company will get a three-month extension to complete the deal.

However, TikTok and ByteDance said in their lawsuit last week that they would still have no choice but to shut down by next January 19 because continuing to operate in the US wouldn’t be commercially, technologically or legally possible.

They asserted it would be impossible for ByteDance to divest its US TikTok platform as a separate entity from the rest of TikTok, which has one billion users worldwide — most of them outside of the United States.

A US-only TikTok would operate as an island that’s detached from the rest of the world, the lawsuit argues.

It also said the Chinese government – which would need to approve such a sale – has “made clear” it would not permit a sale of the recommendation algorithm that populates users’ feeds and has been the “key to the success of TikTok in the United States.”

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