The real reason for Montana’s TikTok ban? U.S. tech monopolies don’t want competition

Montana lawmakers have decided to ban TikTok, the popular social media app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Now, their bill awaits the signature of the state’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte to become law.

The argument for banning TikTok is based on several conspiracy theories. But the real conspiracy theory, which Montana has a role in, isn’t being reported.

The popular conspiracy theory narrative is that China—and particularly the Communist Party of China—will be able to spy on U.S. citizens, propagandize them, and that China is even using TikTok to dumb down U.S. citizens while the Chinese version of the app is used to edify China’s citizens.

First, the CIA itself has claimed there is no evidence that the Chinese government has access to U.S. TikTok data. Indeed, TikTok stores U.S. data on servers based in Texas. As such, the reasoning for banning TikTok is based on made up hypothetical situations rather than factual evidence.

Second, it is vacuous to claim that China is using TikTok to propagandize U.S. citizens as U.S. TikTok users overwhelmingly consume homegrown content. Banning TikTok would only mean U.S. content creators would migrate to different apps—this is probably the intention.

In terms of the Chinese version of TikTok, an episode of 60 Minutes argued that TikTok is more likely to show edifying content to Chinese youth while U.S. children get the dumbed-down version. Thus, the reasoning goes that China is purposely dumbing down Americans!

This dumbed-down argument speaks volumes to the ignorance that masks the real causes for seeking to ban TikTok. Any serious self-reflection on popular U.S. culture would recognize that it has been dumbed down long before TikTok’s advent.

Ignorance and mindless hedonism combined with quick wealth added onto a catchy jingle has long been the background melody that big business has used to propagandize U.S. youth. Without widespread ignorance, arguments that combine multiple foreign invasions with notions of “democracy” and “the good guys” would be untenable.

In contrast, China, recognizing the power of technology and media, does have stricter regulations when it comes to its youth. Minors are restricted by law in their consumption of online computer games. Technology should be edifying and not just a tool for corporations to make a quick buck.

The contradictions are evident. China has a more edifying version of TikTok because the Chinese government acts democratically on behalf of its citizens. However, in the U.S., China can’t control TikTok’s content, which is precisely what TikTok’s detractors are accusing China of.

The job of governing U.S. tech media, for the public good, should be that of the U.S. government. However, homegrown tech monopolies that fund the U.S. government would take offense and claim freedom of expression. They would say the free market is being interfered with by an “authoritarian” government.

The real conspiracy is that TikTok, which is now the most popular downloaded app in the U.S., competes with U.S. tech monopolies. Consequently, the cloak of “free competition” is being discarded and underhanded political means are being used to protect monopoly power.

One only needs to look at donations to the U.S. presidential 2020 elections to understand that big business is calling the shots. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix all donated between $5 million and $21 million across both parties.

Absent from this large-scale election funding was ByteDance, which, according to OpenSecrets, didn’t even donate $20,000 across both parties in 2020, though CNBC recently reported that since then ByteDance has spent $13 million lobbying the federal government.

Perhaps this is too little, too late, and at any rate, they can’t compete with the collective power of U.S. tech.

The problem with TikTok isn’t that it is controlled by China, it’s that it’s not “one of them.”

The U.S. government is close to Facebook et al, and they have all the information they need regarding U.S. citizens, the problem is they, much like the Chinese government, don’t have access to TikTok’s U.S. data.

Furthermore, TikTok isn’t hostile to China. It won’t be joining the tech funding of anti-China think tanks.

If TikTok is eaten up or banned, then these monopolies will feast on the windfall of content creators moving to their platforms, the competition for in-demand developers would be eased, and a free-market competitor would be removed.

So, what does all this have to do with quiet Montana, far from Silicon Valley?

Capitalists not only fund politics, they are increasingly politicians too—as we saw with Donald Trump. Gianforte, Montana’s governor, is a former software engineer and founder of the cloud service company RightNow Technologies.

His successful business was sold to the Texas-based U.S. tech giant Oracle for a cool $1.5 billion in 2011. Oracle was the third-largest software company in the world by revenue and market capitalization in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, like the other big tech firms, it spends a fortune on influencing U.S. politics. OpenSecrets reveals that in 2020 and 2021 it spent over $21 million in lobbying and its contributions in 2022 were over $33 million. TikTok can’t compete with this.

It can’t be a coincidence that innocuous Montana—with a governor who has complex and interwoven connections with an industry that made him rich, which funds a political system he is part of, and which rejects incursions into the profits of U.S. tech monopolies—that is today the testing ground for a TikTok ban in the U.S.

Morning Star

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


Keith Lamb
Keith Lamb

Keith Lamb writes for Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.