THE political storm in a teacup surrounding TikTok celebrities Hareem Shah and Sandal Khattak continues to rage on. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication urged the FIA to treat the actions of the two social media celebrities as cybercrimes, eg violations of privacy, defamation or blackmail. The following day, Ms Khattak filed a petition in a sessions court stating that the FIA had targeted her for harassment by repeatedly issuing her summons without disclosing the grounds for its inquiry. Given that the duo’s high jinks remain a source of embarrassment for many a male politician, it is unlikely that this matter will soon die down. And while no citizen should be allowed to break laws for the sake of making viral content, it is concerning that virtually all talk of assigning blame and responsibility is focused only on these two young women.
The outrage and noise surrounding this scandal has obscured the need for more serious issues such as lapses of security to be addressed. As for lapses of judgement, while politicians like other public figures have a right to privacy, their personal conduct must not give rise to allegations of misuse of the powers of their public office. Some introspection on how they may have themselves muddied the waters by often dragging opponents’ personal affairs into the public domain would also not be unwelcome. Sections of the mainstream press, too, are not above reproach for subjecting the TikTok duo to vicious chastisement — often laced with misogyny and classism — and personal risk by disclosing private information. Moreover, the irony of labelling the two women ‘attention seekers’ while actively participating in the machinery of tabloid spectacle is not lost on anyone. Lastly, it is an interesting reflection on our national priorities that public discourse surrounding TikTok has more to do with moral panic than potential issues concerning users’ data collection, manipulation of public opinion, and amplification of hate speech, disinformation and harassment campaigns endemic on all social media platforms.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020