Banning TikTok is like 'taking food out of my kids' mouth': Montana small-business owner
Published: Jun 05, 2023 08:13 PM
TikTok content creators gather outside the Capitol to protest against a potential ban on March 22, 2023. Photo: AFP

TikTok content creators gather outside the Capitol to protest against a potential ban on March 22, 2023. Photo: AFP

Editor's Note:

Governor of the US state of Montana Greg Gianforte signed a bill last month to ban TikTok, making Montana the first state to ban the popular social media app. In a quick response, five TikTok users in Montana who create content posted on the app filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the state's ban. Samantha Alario (Alario), a designer of sustainable swimwear who uses TikTok to promote her company and engage with customers, is one of them. In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen, Alario talked about why she filed the lawsuit and what she thinks of the US' suppression of TikTok.

GT: When did you know about TikTok? What do you think of this app?

I first learned about TikTok in 2019. I'm a small business owner, so my No.1 passion was not to be a content creator or an influencer. I have a product that I really want to introduce people to how I make it and how we promote it. It's really cool, so I wanted to just share that. I wanted to grow my community. TikTok was very new in 2019. There were a lot of people getting views. This was a great app to be seen really quickly. So, I joined and let's see what happens.

The algorithm of TikTok is unique. Meta platforms don't do what TikTok does. They are very filtered with what you see. It's all based on what you like. They want to follow you into a particular type of content that you see. But TikTok is not like that. It's like a little free-for-all. You get to post the video, and it's going to be shot to everybody. I think that's so cool. It really gives you a chance to meet new people and grow your community by meeting and being seen in front of a whole bunch of new users. 

GT: When did your followers experience a significant increase? After you joined TikTok, what changes did it bring to your business?

I don't have the biggest following. I only have about 16,000 followers. It shot up pretty quickly. In the last year, I've gone through a lot of personal hardship, so I haven't been able to do much content creation. I've been at 16,000 since last year, when I posted videos showing how we make the products, package them, and that sort of stuff. People were really curious about the process. 

It's the only place where I can grow new customers. It's a place where I can go and engage with new people. I know the people that I have directly interacted with have become recurring customers, and that has not happened on any other platform.

The users on TikTok really like authenticity. So you can't really go live on Meta platforms and get the same sort of response that you get on TikTok. About 15 percent of my website traffic is TikTok.

I started using TikTok in 2019. In 2020, I started taking it seriously. My business started to go from just a little handmade market, only making a couple thousand dollars to now over six figures in revenue. So, it was a very big boost.

GT: If TikTok is banned, how will it affect your business and life? 

I live in Montana. Our geographic location is very cold. I sell bathing suits. So for me, social media is a very important part of my business to be able to survive. In my local community, I can go door to door and sell bathing suits for a few months out of the year. But when it starts getting a little too chilly, it's very hard for me. So that's why I was here, because I saw it as a huge threat for me to be able to continue to grow and sustain the business. Without social media, without TikTok, I'm really limited in who can see my products. I feel like you're taking food out of my kids' mouth; it's an inability for me to be able to generate more sales.

That's really startling. That's why a lot of us on the plaintiffs are here, because we know that this is taking away livelihoods and a really big opportunity, especially for our little state because we don't have the biggest population. We're in a big geographic location, but we don't have that many people. This is a really big thing to try to take away all of the freedom of speech and everything else. 

GT: What's your plan if TikTok is eventually banned?

I'm a very positive person. So I know that whatever happens is meant to be. But right now, I'm going to keep trying to grow on TikTok. I want to keep growing my community. I want to keep getting to know people. So that way, if anything does happen, we still have a connection and there's a way to figure out how to stay up-to-date with me. But I'm not going to take my eggs out of the TikTok basket for the next while. I'm going to really keep pushing with it. Because I know that it's wrong what my state has done to try to ban TikTok. I know that it can't last, or at least I hope it can't. 

It is very stressful to think of how I am going to get seen by hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of eyes without TikTok and without that opportunity. It is definitely stressful and worrisome.

GT: Some people think that the US government's suppression of TikTok, to some extent, is to pave the way for American companies. What do you think?

That is exactly it. We are very hungry for power and greed here in this country. This is so ridiculous to be trying to force out TikTok just because they're owned by a Chinese corporation. They're trying to push them out and force them to become a US-owned company. This is just so morally wrong, it's not logically, ridiculously backward.

Montana is really using this bill to sort of push the message of protectionism. It's just not the answer. Banning TikTok is not going to help our national security. If we really wanted to help our national security, then we should be implementing measures for everybody. Not just TikTok in Montana. It's just not fair.

GT: What do you think of the fact that ordinary Americans like you are affected by this ban, just because of a government policy driven by some fears about a foreign country?

That's what's so startling. And that's why we five individuals are really stepping up, because we see this as the beginning of censorship. That is what this is -- a very quick slap to close the door on something without really realizing the repercussions or the freedom that it instills for all of us.

So this is a really big deal. Our country is not heading in the right direction with these kinds of moves at all. This is not right. This is far beyond just TikTok and just the state of Montana.

GT: How did you come to this idea of suing the Montana government? 

I can't quite dive into how we all came together to do this. I can just say that we are all extremely passionate about the opportunity. None of us are TikTok stars. This is not just about TikTok. This is about the greater picture: You cannot just censor this, stop this, and not allow us citizens and residents to be able to use this.

You know, you sue the government. This is how you actually stand up. I've just learned that as a citizen. I did not know that we had the power to really do that. So, it was a big learning process for me.

GT: As far as you know, who else may sue the government over the TikTok ban?

Our community wants to step up. I know that there are a bunch more plaintiffs not with us, but I believe that there are a bunch more lawsuits by individuals that are lining up right now and that should end up getting filed in the next couple of weeks. So there should be a few more lawsuits coming through from individuals. I know TikTok filed on May 22. And then there should be a few more because now it's in the media, there's a lot of the community that wants to come together and think what they can do now.

We've kind of already done it with the lawsuit, but it's good to have the support. The people in the community will be able to come to the trial, especially the creators and the ones that want to share their story. They'll be able to come to the trial and hearing, and they may be able to share their story as a deposition. So we're going to try to get more people, more support, and more stories to be a part of it.

GT: How much the chance to win the lawsuit? 

I think we've got a good chance, and so do the lawyers. Obviously, I don't know constitutional law, but they do. So they're going to be the ones who are really fighting the nitty-gritty of the legality. That's why we're here. We're all confident; we know this cannot stand. This is not right. Montana did not at all care about the constitution, did not care about freedom of speech, or the First Amendment. We're going in fighting. This just can't stand.

There are a lot of us who are tired of what's going on and see how wrong everything is. We're going to start standing up because the earth needs help and our whole society needs help. This is all very wrong. We need to change how we are living. It doesn't start by banning TikTok. There are a lot more things that we need to be focused on, and we really need to be working toward them. It's a bit of a bummer that we all have to put in the fight for this now. But Montana has to step up, and we have to shut this effort down. So it doesn't catch on with the rest of the country. It's a really big deal. We're in a lot of trouble right now. So hopefully, the citizens of the US can stand up and really get us back on track.