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He's the 'unofficial ambassador' of Montana — and isn't buying its TikTok ban

Christian W. Poole, a Montana resident and TikToker, isn't sure what's next following his state's pending ban on the app.
Christian W. Poole
Christian W. Poole, a Montana resident and TikToker, isn't sure what's next following his state's pending ban on the app.

Last December, Montana banned TikTok on government devices. Now, it is banning the hugely popular platform outright. Where does that leave the content creators?

Who is he? Christian W. Poole is a 20-year-old born and bred Montanan. He's a merchandiser for Pepsi by day, but Poole has also amassed a hefty social media following, mainly on TikTok.

  • In a state with roughly 1.1 million people, there isn't a whole lot of insight on social media about what life is like in the Treasure State. That's where Poole comes along.
  • In his videos, he shares his insider musings about the culture, everyday life, and quirks of the picturesque state; as well as the friction experienced by locals as more out-of-state residents seek to call it home. A follower dubbed him the "unofficial ambassador" of Montana, and he has since run with the term.
  • "In Montana, we have a very pristine way of life that's very private, very peaceful, [and] very nature [oriented]," Poole told NPR.
  • Poole says he makes hardly any money from his 400,000+ following on the app, due in part to the notoriously unpredictable TikTok creator fund. But for him, money isn't really a big concern about the ban. "I possibly lose connection to all those followers and I lose my main source of connection with all the people that I've grown to love and befriend ... This is my most favorite hobby in the world."

  • Want more on TikTok? Listen to Consider This on TikTok vs. everybody.

    What's the big deal? As reported by NPR's Ayana Archie, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 419 on Wednesday, which bans the app.

  • It is due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and would be enforced by fines of up to $10,000 a day for platforms still offering the app, like the Google Play store or the Apple App store.
  • While Montana is the first state to pursue an outright ban on TikTok, a handful of others have moved to restrict its download on government phones and school-owned devices.
  • The TikTok bans on government devices — which are not unique to the United States — are fueled by privacy concerns over the Chinese-owned app. Archie also reported that no direct evidence of the Chinese Government accessing user data exists, but that laws in China allow the government to potentially access the information if requested.
  • What are people saying? Plenty!

    Gov. Greg Gianforte says it's all about protecting people:

    The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well documented. Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans' private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.

    Christian W. Poole worries this could be the start of something bigger:

    If they successfully ban TikTok and if it goes off without a hitch, like, "Oh, yeah, we did it, nobody can use TikTok anymore because we didn't see it fit" then they're gonna be able to start saying, "Oh, well, that was perfect justification. This is the precedent. So we can start banning stuff left and right."

    And then soon enough, it's just going to be more government control. It's going to be a huge infringement on our freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of media. And that's going to lead to far worse problems than this ever needed to be.

    NPR's technology correspondent Bobby Allyn says the ban has some ways to go yet:

    It's widely expected that it will be in the courts soon. TikTok says the ban is an unconstitutional violation of Americans' free speech rights. And groups like the ACLU are backing TikTok's fight. 

    The ACLU says the government can't impose a total ban on a social media platform unless there is an immediate harm to national security. And if TikTok and the ACLU are to be believed, they say there just is not enough evidence to support the idea that TikTok is a threat to national security.

    So, what now?

  • Poole says that for now he'll keep on posting. He's planning on staying in Montana for at least another year, so if the ban goes through, he'll have to migrate his followers to other platforms — something that isn't easy.
  • White House officials are also threatening to ban the app nationally unless parent company, Byte Dance, finds an American buyer, but Allyn reports that "negotiations are kind of at a standstill right now."
  • Learn more:

  • Montana becomes the first state to ban TikTok
  • Heaven has a bathrobe-clad receptionist named Denise. She's helping TikTok grieve
  • Edgy or insensitive? The Paralympics TikTok account sparks a debate
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.