TikTok creators sue U.S. government in a bid to stop potential ban

Eight TikTok creators sued the U.S. government on Tuesday, alleging their rights to free speech are being violated by a new federal law that would ban the social video app if its Chinese owner doesn’t sell it.

U.S. politicians have raised security concerns about the app, saying that TikTok’s ties to its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, could allow a foreign country to collect American users’ data and influence public opinion.

A law signed by President Biden last month would require ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations by Jan. 19 in order for TikTok to continue to be made available in the U.S.

The TikTok video creators, in their lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said they use the app to upload content that helps them connect with different communities, exchange ideas and boost their businesses.

“The Act’s ban of TikTok threatens to deprive them, and the rest of the country, of this distinctive means of expression and communication,” the creators said in their petition. The complaint was first reported by the Washington Post.

The creators are asking for the court to declare the new law invalid and to stop it from being enforced.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it looks forward to defending the law, which has received bipartisan support.

“This legislation addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations,” the department said in a statement.

Opponents of the ban, or forced divestiture, say TikTok’s critics have offered scant evidence that the Chinese government is using the app to spy on U.S. citizens.

The creators’ lawsuit comes a week after TikTok and ByteDance sued the U.S. government on similar 1st Amendment grounds.

The companies said the law would require them to sever ByteDance’s control over TikTok’s popular algorithm, which would significantly alter the way the app functions. The algorithm allows TikTok to offer customized recommendations based on users’ viewing behavior, reaching an audience of more than 1 billion users globally.

TikTok and ByteDance said the new law “offers no support for the idea” that TikTok’s Chinese ownership poses national security risks.

The TikTok creators involved in Tuesday’s lawsuit are Texas rancher Brian Firebaugh; Memphis, Tenn., baker Chloe Joy Sexton; Maryland-based book reviewer Talia Cadet; North Dakota college football coach Timothy Martin; recent college graduate Kiera Spann in North Carolina; Paul Tran, co-founder of Atlanta-based skincare business Love & Pebble; Mississippi-based hip-hop artist Christopher Townsend; and Arizona-based Steven King, whose content centers on LGBTQ+ pride.

TikTok is providing funding for the lawsuit.

“We are supporting our creators who did not otherwise have the means to bring a lawsuit to protect their First Amendment rights,” TikTok said in a statement.

Some of the creators said they depend on TikTok for their livelihoods.

For example, Firebaugh sells ranch products on TikTok and receives money through TikTok’s creator rewards program. If the app were to be banned, he’d have to get a different job and pay for day care, the lawsuit said.

“In his words, ‘if you ban TikTok, you ban my way of life,’” the lawsuit said.

If ByteDance decides to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations, there are already interested buyers.

On Wednesday, former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said he is organizing a bid under his Project Liberty initiative to buy TikTok. Former Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who heads Liberty Strategic Capital, in March said he is assembling an investor group to bid.

Tech companies such as Microsoft and Oracle could be bidders as well, analysts have said.

Times news researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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