Pakistan has a patchy history with social media apps and the country’s regulatory authorities repeatedly urge the social media companies to comply with its guidelines. Following the legacy of banning apps, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has banned the Chinese video-sharing app, TikTok for the second time in less than a year. PTA banned the app after a high court order. According to the court, the app is spurring “unethical and immoral content” which is not good for the future generation and spreading obscenity in society.
Following the Peshawar High Court’s order, the media regulator said, “Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) has issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok app.” Moreover, this is not the first time the video-sharing app has been banned in the country as previously it was banned for a 10-day period in October 2020.
TikTok Ban in Pakistan: Is it good or bad?
PTA didn’t clarify that whether the latest ban was temporary or permanent. On the explanation of why the video-sharing app was banned in Pakistan, the Peshawar high court said that content uploaded on TikTok was “unacceptable” for our society.
The ban came into effect after two high court lawyers sought the ban for videos “contrary to ethical standards and moral values of Pakistan.” They appealed to the court to block the video-sharing app until it operated according to the guidelines provided by the PTA in 2020.
PTA lifted the 2020 ban after TikTok’s management guaranteed the Pakistani government that they would block all accounts “repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality.” It is evident in the TikTok transparency report for July to December 2020, which illustrates that globally, the 2nd highest number of videos approximately more than eight million were taken down from TikTok in Pakistan. The content which was removed was not in line with the enforcement of its community guidelines, which involves no tolerance of sexually explicit content or violence, bullying, and harassment.
This clearly implies that TikTok is adhering to the guidelines provided by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. This is something PTA presented before the Peshawar High Court recently.
However, the censorship route seems to be quite dominant in our society based on immoral content This is a critical precedent for the basic rights of Pakistani citizens, as well as for the economy with its developing tech ecosystem.
TikTok has challenged the recent ban and stated that “TikTok is built upon the foundation of creative expression, with strong safeguards in place to keep inappropriate content off the platform.”
Is the ban good or bad? (Impacts and Implications)
TikTok is a widely used application in Pakistan with a total user base of around 50 million users. The most captivating aspect of the app is its user-friendly interface which does not need high literacy to use effectively. This aspect demonstrates the fame it has earned specifically in the remote areas of Pakistan. It is also best-suited for the underprivileged social class that does not manage to attract much attention on elite-dominated social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
TikTok can be used for a number of reasons. Similar to the other social media platforms, all the content is generated by users. The entertainment is the largest market for TikTok, and the best thing is that you can just start producing content on TikTok without any investment in the production of the content unlike the entertainment on television with its multimillion-rupee productions showing mostly vested lifestyles. On the other hand, TikTok generates purely local entertainment that draws forth culture, humor, values, and varied lifestyles to the palm of the user’s hands. It has also been utilized for public messaging. For example, the incumbent governor of Punjab had hired top influencers on TikTok to propagate the message of COIVD SOP, something they did very effectively and in a new catchy manner. The video-sharing app is used by thousands of Pakistanis to earn revenue through different means. Many underprivileged people who were living hand to mouth have been able to transform their lifestyles because of TikTok. For them, TikTok has provided a platform where they can showcase their talent to the whole world and get acknowledgment and monetization.
In these perilous times when the COVID-19 pandemic has badly affected the economy and increased the unemployment rate amongst the youth, tech platforms act as saviors by rendering opportunities to the young people to show their prowess so that they can earn and become supportive of their families. TikTok has transformed the career of many individuals and made icons in society. This should be admired as it assists in increasing talent recruitment via personal networks to one based on organic popularity based on talent, skill, and creativity. So certainly, the app does not deserve the curse of moral policing in case if the platform itself is adhering to the guidelines.
Furthermore, TikTok is also used frequently by businesses for the marketing of their products. These firms market their products through influencers on the app who use innovative ways to promote products and earn through them. You must note that this is different from the advertisements that businesses promote through TikTok directly.
After all the above discussion, I would like to ask a question. Is it justifiable that the authorities who have most likely never used the platform themselves, should resort to moral policing and ban TikTok for millions of citizens who are earning through it and making their livelihoods?
Apart from being a reason of concern for TikTok users and violating the right to freedom of speech and livelihood which are affirmed by the Constitution of Pakistan, such kinds of bans have broader implications for the economy. In such an ecosystem where authorities of the state are so keen to ban and block entire technology platforms, it is diminishing the confidence of investors, or those seeking to do business with Pakistan.
Apart from investors and founders, the TikTok ban also has serious repercussions for the millions of people who use the platform for creative expression, connection, and revenue generation. Much like the other developing countries, the major portion of TikTok’s users in Pakistan are associated with lower-income households and less educated than typical users of Facebook, YouTube, etc. TikTok is an accessible and easy-to-use app and anyone can use it from a man named Phoollu who earns just 600 rupees a day but has over a million followers, to Romaisa Khan, a university student who has nearly three million followers and earns in thousands.
Conclusively, we would say that the TikTok platform is assisting many in revenue generation and also complying with the PTA guidelines which the latter also mentioned in the court so it should not be completely banned on the account of a few videos with obscene content. As it will shut doors on the income of the majority of people thus forcing them to live hand to mouth.
What else can be done other than a complete ban?
- The authorities can devise a new warning system that will directly warn the parent company if anything goes out of the order or if the company appears to be non-compliant.
- Secondly, individuals who found involved in the propagation of obscene content must be held accountable without any blame being put on the platform. He/she can be penalized for the first mistake and more intensive punishments for the repeaters.
- The guidelines issued by the PTA must be revised and new sections should be added in line with issues spotted by the high court and rectify them.
- If it appears that the platform itself is responsible then it should be fined with a new warning and call for stricter action next time in case of non-compliance.
- The federal cabinet should make a separate committee to overlook the bans imposed on the apps.