Calling the potential ban unconstitutional, TikTok and its parent company ByteDance filed a lawsuit Tuesday, saying that the law infringed upon the First Amendment by effectively removing an app that millions of Americans use to express their opinions and communicate without freely.

TikTok contended that the law infringed upon the First Amendment by essentially removing an app that millions of Americans use to express their opinions and communicate freely. It also asserted that divestiture was “simply not possible,” especially within the law’s 270-day timeline, citing challenges such as Beijing’s refusal to sell a key feature that powers TikTok in the United States.


The battle for TikTok’s survival in the United States is expected to unfold primarily in the courts over the coming months. The conflict pits Congress’s national security concerns regarding the social media app’s connections to China against TikTok’s argument that a sale or ban would violate the First Amendment free-speech rights of its users and harm small businesses reliant on the platform. Ultimately, the case is anticipated to reach the Supreme Court.

For years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over U.S. user data, or influence Americans by suppressing or promoting certain content on TikTok. The U.S. has yet to provide public evidence to support those claims, but political pressures have piled up regardless.

If upheld, legal experts also stress that the law could set a precedent carrying wider ramifications for digital media in the U.S.

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That’s the central question. TikTok and opponents of the law have argued that a ban would violate First Amendment rights of the social media platform’s 170 million U.S. users.

Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, previously told The Associated Press that a TikTok ban would “stifle free expression and restrict public access” to a platform that has become central source for information sharing.

Among key questions will be whether the legislation interferes with the overall content of speech on TikTok, Elettra Bietti, an assistant professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, noted following the law’s passage last month — as content-based restrictions meet a higher level of scrutiny.


“Congress has taken the unprecedented step of expressly singling out and banning TikTok: a vibrant online forum for protected speech and expression used by 170 million Americans to create, share, and view videos over the Internet,” ByteDance said in its lawsuit Tuesday. “For the first time in history, Congress has enacted a law that subjects a single, named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, and bars every American from participating in a unique online community with more than 1 billion people worldwide.”


TikTok has expressed confidence about the prospects of its legal challenge.

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” TikTok CEO Shou Chew said in a video response posted to X shortly after the legislation was signed into law on April 24. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail again.”


Toomey also said that he was optimistic about the possibility of TikTok being able to block the measure in court, noting that both users and the company “have extremely strong” First Amendment claims.

“Many of the calls to completely ban TikTok in the U.S. are about scoring political points and rooted in anti-China sentiment,” Toomey added. “And to date, these steps to ban TikTok had not been remotely supported by concrete public evidence.

Still, the future of any litigation is hard to predict, especially for this kind of case. And from a legal perspective, it can be difficult to cite political motivations, even if they’re well-documented, as grounds to invalidate a law.


The battle could also string along for some time, with the potential for appeals that could go all the way to the Supreme Court, which would likely uphold the law due to its current composition, said Gus Hurwitz, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School.


TikTok’s legal challenge won’t go on without a fight. The government will probably respond with national-security claims, which were already cited prominently as the legislation made its way through Congress.

Toomey maintains that the government hasn’t met the high bar required to prove imminent national-security risks, but some other legal experts note that it’s still a strong card to play.


“One of the unfortunate and really frustrating things about national-security legislation (is that) it tends to be a trump card,” Hurwitz said. “Once national-security issues come up, they’re going to carry the day either successfully or not.”

Hurwitz added that he thinks there are legitimate national-security arguments that could be brought up here. National security can be argued because it’s a federal measure, he noted. That sets this scenario apart from previously unsuccessful state-level legislation seeking to ban TikTok, such as in Montana.

But national-security arguments are also vulnerable to questioning as to why TikTok is getting specific scrutiny.

“Personally, I believe that what TikTok does isn’t that different from other companies that are U.S.-based,” Bietti said, pointing to tech giants ranging from Google to Amazon. “The question is, ‘Why ban TikTok and not the activities and the surveillance carried out by other companies in the United States?’”


Still, legal experts note that there could be repercussions beyond TikTok in the future.

The measure was passed as part of a larger $95 billion package that provides aid to Ukraine and Israel. The package also includes a provision that makes it illegal for data brokers to sell or rent “personally identifiable sensitive data” to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran or entities in those countries.

That has encountered some pushback, including from the ACLU, which says the language is written too broadly and could sweep in journalists and others who publish personal information.

“There’s real reason to be concerned that the use of this law will not stop with TikTok,” Toomey said. “Looking at that point and the bigger picture, banning TikTok or forcing its sale would be a devastating blow to the U.S. government’s decades of work promoting an open and secure global internet.”

With inputs from AP.