A bill that could "Stop the Tok" is working its way through the Montana Legislature, and for some businesses in the Treasure State, banning TikTok is much more than losing an entertainment app.
Caroline Nelson and her husband are first-generation ranchers who advertise their business, Little Creek Lamb and Beef, over TikTok. Without the app, their main source of advertising would be gone.
“For me, as a small business owner, I get very nervous at the idea that our ability to market our products would be, you know, shut down," Nelson says. “Us right now, especially because we're first generation, we're kind of an unconventional way of coming into ranching. We are very dependent on these other forms of marketing. Social media is 100% of how we get our products out there.”
TikTok gained most of its popularity in 2019 and became one of the most popular social media apps. The bill to ban TikTok has successfully passed the Montana Senate and is now heading to the House. Governor Greg Gianforte issued a directive banning the use of Tik Tok on state-owned devices and networks in December. Sen. Shelley Vance (R-Belgrade) said in a recent statement:
"The application is a major threat to our national security. We know the Chinese Communist Party can use it to spy on Americans by tracking locations and keeping other personal information."
The bill holds TikTok and app stores accountable, not individual users. I reached out to Kyler Nerison, communications director and spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen and the Montana Department of Justice, to ask how the state would enforce this ban. He said, "The Department of Justice would fine app stores or TikTok $10,000 for each discrete violation and $10,000 for each day that a violation continues."
Nelson believes a ban like this isn't in the best interest of Montana businesses.
“Small businesses like me, I don't just sell to Montanans, I sell everywhere," says Nelson, "So if I can't market on TikTok or on any social platform, it puts Montanans at a unique disadvantage compared to other small businesses in other states."
Nelson says this app has helped her more than hurt her business.
“We actually had a viral video on TikTok a couple of weeks ago that allowed us to reach, it was like, half a million people and it allowed us to double one whole arm of our business, doubled literally overnight,” says Nelson.
For her, she hopes that instead of banning the app altogether, there can be a middle ground.
“I understand the need to protect Montanans' data," says Nelson, "To me, I'm like, is there a middle ground that doesn't absolutely take us out at the knees?”