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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Potential Blow to Montana: TikTok Ban Could Deliver a Devastating Blow

Twenty-year-old Christian Poole calls himself “the unofficial ambassador for the state of Montana.”

His favourite social media outlet is TikTok, where he shares comedic films on the quirks of his native state. Nearly 420,000 people have shown their appreciation for his work by sending him likes and smiley faces.

Mr. Poole, along with hundreds of thousands of other TikTok users, were left scratching their heads on Wednesday after Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill banning the site, making his state the first in the nation to do so.

Mr. Poole of Bozeman has recently produced movies on cows (which outnumber humans in Montana) and spring showers (which often carry frozen pellets called graupel, not rain). He claims he is not in it for the money but rather to spread joy via the app: “I want to make people laugh.”

Mr. Poole said that he was “not losing sleep” about the ban since he was certain that it will be challenged in court.

She also noted that it was beneficial to Montana’s tourist industry. As the spokesperson put it, “It’s a really good place to promote Yellowstone, Glacier, and Big Sky.”

The demographic of the site’s audience extends beyond young adults. Seventy-year-old Jeff Spurlin owns and operates a creperie and cafe in Helena. His younger coworkers were the ones who first showed him TikTok, and he uses it to this day for entertaining and informative culinary videos, workout guides, and trivia.

He saw the ban’s passage by a Republican-controlled legislature as evidence of a conservative shift in the state.

Mr. Spurlin said he found it surprising that Montana would be at the forefront of national attempts to prohibit TikTok, despite concerns from certain federal authorities that the Chinese business ByteDance, which owns TikTok, may share sensitive user data with the government in Beijing.

He hypothesised that February’s high profile sighting of a Chinese spy balloon above the state contributed to widespread anxiety over Beijing’s snooping.

TikTok has evolved from a platform for sharing viral dance videos and other lighthearted content to one of significant societal importance in recent years. It’s a hub for political debate, a go-to for research and keeping up with the news, and, unfortunately, a site where falsehoods may go viral.

Popular Montana hashtags include “#bigskycountry,” “#lastbestplace,” and “406,” the area code for the state. Videos of Missoula’s bookstores and Billings’ pubs and cafés are posted online with more scenic clips of the area’s many lakes, mountains, rivers, and hills.

Some have voiced concerns that the app’s potential for addiction stems from the fact that it uses an algorithm to tailor each user’s experience depending on how they respond to the videos they see.

The TikTok algorithm allowed Mr. Kim, an organiser and activist who also works for the ACLU but was not speaking on their behalf, to find others with similar interests.

He claims he just watches videos on TikTok and never uploads anything himself. However, he has made an appearance on the stage: Mr. Kim was detained during a rally for his congresswoman Zooey Zephyr in Helena last month, and the video of his detention went viral. After making passionate comments against a bill that would have banned hormone therapy and surgical care for transgender adolescents, Democratic representative Zephyr was escorted from the House floor.

Mr. Kim, who is interested in the Chinese community in Montana, said that the ban on TikTok was consistent with a broader trend in state politics. Fears of a geopolitical confrontation with Beijing have been emphasised by politicians of both parties.

There was still a sense of misfit parts at the end of the day between the international problems and the Montana TikTok movies. The platform, however, remained just as immovable as before.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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