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TikTok users sue federal government over new law that could lead to ban of popular app

TikTok sues U.S. government: What to know
TikTok sues U.S. government: What to know 01:43

Washington — A group of prominent TikTok users sued the federal government on Tuesday over a new law that would force the sale of the widely popular video-sharing app or lead to its ban in the United States.

The eight users, who together have millions of followers on TikTok, argued that the law signed by President Biden last month violates their First Amendment rights by threatening to shut down a communication medium that has become a prevalent part of American life. They also claimed that the law keeps them from creating and sharing expressive material through their chosen publisher, as well as viewing content from other users.

Among the users involved in the court fight are Chloe Joy Sexton of Memphis, Tennessee, who has 2.2 million followers on TikTok; Christopher Townsend of Philadelphia, Mississippi, who has amassed 2.5 million followers; and Steven King of Buckeye, Arizona, who has 6.8 million followers. 

The law, they said, "undermines the nation's founding principles and free marketplace of ideas. The First Amendment to our Constitution precludes Congress from censoring speech because of its content, viewpoints, editorial practices, or identity of speakers or publishers."

The suit is the second filed in federal court that challenges the law, called the Protecting Americans from the Adversary Controlled Applications Act, and seeks to block the Biden administration from enforcing it. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance filed their own petition in federal court in Washington last week that claims the law is outside the bounds of the First Amendment.

Both petitions were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which the measure specifies has exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to it.

"This legislation addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations," a Justice Department spokesperson told CBS News in a statement Tuesday. "We look forward to defending the legislation in court."

The law targeting TikTok was included in a foreign aid package passed by Congress last month and signed by Mr. Biden shortly after. The legislation requires ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, to sell its stake in TikTok within 270 days, though the president could extend that deadline by 90 days. If ByteDance fails to divest from the platform within that time frame, TikTok would lose access to mobile app store services and web-hosting providers, effectively cutting it off from the estimated 170 million U.S. users.

The measure stemmed from concerns raised by lawmakers and U.S. national security officials about TikTok and warnings that the Chinese government could use the app to spy on Americans or weaponize content to influence public opinion.

TikTok's powerful recommendation algorithm has been a driver of the app's popularity, and the platform said in court filings that the Chinese government opposes a divestment of the technology. Attempts to cut TikTok's operations from ByteDance would leave the platform "without access to the recommendation engine that has created a unique style and community that cannot be replicated on any other platform," the companies said in their separate legal challenge.

For several of the users behind the latest petition, they argued that TikTok has led to income streams and served as a launchpad to opportunities off the app. They warned that if the platform is banned, they risk losing their ties to communities of followers and revenue generated from videos and products sold through the platform. Though the users said they have accounts on other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, they said that they have fewer followers and their content does not have the same reach.

"TikTok creates a universe where everyday Americans from all walks of life can connect, communicate, and find their communities just by being themselves," the users said in their petition. "Visibility on TikTok is not driven by someone's fame or fortune but by connections inspired by individual authentic expression."

As with the challenge from TikTok and ByteDance, the filing from the platform's users noted that Mr. Biden's campaign has a TikTok account, as do several senators. They also claimed that TikTok has taken steps to protect U.S. user data and the platform from foreign influence, in part through an initiative called "Project Texas" and commitments made through a draft agreement with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

The users accused members of Congress who called for the app to be banned of creating "a fiction that TikTok curates content to push propaganda" and deliberately amplifies videos that aim to divide the nation.

"Congress's decision to focus on TikTok demonstrates animus toward the speech TikTok publishes and the speakers who publish it," they wrote in their petition.

Efforts to restrict access to TikTok because of national security concerns are not new, and more than 30 states and the federal government ban the app on state-issued devices. The Trump administration attempted to ban the app in 2020, but TikTok and users who challenged former President Donald Trump's executive order targeting the platform prevailed in federal courts. A judge blocked a Montana law last year that prohibits the app in part on First Amendment grounds.

Scott MacFarlane contributed to this report

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