ISLAMABAD: After a 10-day hiatus, TikTok services were restored across the country on Monday with certain conditions, as the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) warned the company that spread of ‘vulgarity’ / ‘indecent’ content and ‘abuse of societal values’ would result in a permanent ban on the app.
The ban, which was placed on the short video sharing platform by the telecom regulator on Oct 9, was lifted after an ‘assurance’ regarding effective ‘moderation of content’ by the TikTok management in a virtual meeting, according to the PTA.
Also, PTA chairman retired Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa while briefing the Senate standing committee on information technology on Monday said the TikTok management had claimed that around 25,000 accounts of Pakistani origin and about four million videos have been blocked in three months.
In a statement, the regulator announced that the restoration of TikTok services was strictly subject to the condition that the platform would not be used for the spread of vulgarity / indecent content and that the societal values would not be abused. “PTA will be constrained to permanently block the application in case the said condition is not fulfilled,” added the PTA statement.
Pakistan had banned the video sharing network, owned by a Chinese company, after giving repeated warnings to it regarding complaints against ‘unethical’ content.
In a briefing to the Senate committee on IT, retired Maj Gen Bajwa said TikTok had assured Pakistan of investing around half a million US dollars for moderation of content. It would be used to employ an artificial intelligence (AI) software as well as human resource in Pakistan for the purpose.
He said the app was taking some steps immediately, as the PTA had been engaged with them regarding content moderation for quite some time.
He told the senators that TikTok would block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality and would moderate the account in accordance with local laws.
The PTA announced that in view of the presence of vulgar, indecent/immoral content on the app and its negative effects on Pakistani society, the regulator had been asking the company to prevent its app from disseminating unlawful content.
However, the PTA added, TikTok could not satisfy the regulatory authority about concrete steps it had taken to block and remove unlawful content. TikTok app had been blocked earlier this month with a clear warning that it would remain suspended in the country until a satisfactory content monitoring mechanism was put in place.
As the PTA remained engaged with the senior management of the app before and after the imposition of the ban, TikTok assured the authority of content moderation in accordance with societal norms and the laws of Pakistan. It also promised that the users continuously involved in uploading of ‘unlawful content’ would be blocked.
After the assurance, the PTA said that as a facilitator to the users’ healthy digital experience on the internet and growth of digital companies decided to lift the ban.
Meanwhile, TikTok has issued a statement lauding the unblocking of app in Pakistan.
“We appreciate the PTA’s commitment to ongoing productive dialogue and recognise their care for the digital experience of Pakistani users,” spokesperson of TikTok said in a statement issued from Singapore through their media agency.
“At TikTok, we are committed to enforcing our Community Guidelines and complying with local laws in all markets in which we operate, as these are pillars of our work to promote a safe and positive community online,” the statement added.
The TikTok said creativity and passion of this community had brought joy to households across Pakistan and opened vital economic opportunities to incredibly talented creators.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2020