Eight TikTok creators file suit against the divest-or-ban law

May 15, 2024
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The suit is similar to the company’s own challenge to the law in that it leans on First Amendment arguments, calls lawmakers’ concerns around the app speculative, and recalls that courts have blocked other methods of banning TikTok, including former President Donald Trump’s executive order and a Montana state law. But while the company’s suit details the alleged impracticality of separating TikTok from its owner ByteDance, the creators’ suit focuses squarely on how their own speech could be impacted if TikTok went away.

The creators — including rancher Brian Firebaugh, book reviewer Talia Cadet, and college football coach Timothy Martin — claim that TikTok is distinct from other social media platforms as a vehicle for expression, meaning that there’s no equivalent platform for creators to move to. They point to its recommendation algorithm and features like its green screen or duet capability as elements that make it stand out. “These characteristics—intrinsic to the medium and derived from the system TikTok uses to curate content for each user — give TikTok a distinct culture and identity,” the lawsuit says. “Creating videos on TikTok (‘TikToks’) is thus its own form of expression, and content expressed through TikTok may convey a different meaning than content expressed elsewhere.”

The complaint points out that even though all the creators participating in the lawsuit have used other platforms like Facebook and Instagram, their following on those sites is significantly lower. And, they say, they fear that an ownership change could drastically alter the experience, just like Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter (now X) did for that platform. “Petitioners thus have an interest not only in creating and accessing expression through TikTok, but an interest in creating and accessing expression as curated using TikTok’s current editorial practices,” the complaint says.

The case is filed in the federal Court of Appeals in DC, which has exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to the forced divestment law. The creators are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional and stop it from being enforced.

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