PHC orders ban on TikTok over 'obscene' content

Published March 11, 2021
The Peshawar High Court ordered the PTA to ban TikTok until officials responded to Pakistan's request to restrict immoral content. — Reuters/File
The Peshawar High Court ordered the PTA to ban TikTok until officials responded to Pakistan's request to restrict immoral content. — Reuters/File

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to ban TikTok — the popular social media platform for entertainment videos — over proliferation of videos "spreading obscenity in society".

PHC Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan gave the order while hearing a petition against the social media platform.

PTA Director Kamran Gandapur and deputy attorney generals Amir Javed and Asghar Kundi were also present in court.

Justice Khan said videos being uploaded to TikTok were "unacceptable for Pakistani society". "TikTok is affecting most of the youth. Reports being received about the platform in Peshawar are sad."

He remarked that the videos were "spreading obscenity" and thus the platform should be immediately closed. He questioned whether the closure would hurt the platform, to which Gandapur responded in the affirmative.

The PTA director said the authority had sent a request to TikTok officials but had not yet received a "positive response".

"TikTok should be closed down unless their officials comply with your request and cooperate with you to prevent immoral content," said Justice Khan. "It will be closed until your request is processed," the court said.

The chief justice enquired where the offices of TikTok were located to which he was told that the platform had no office in Pakistan, its head office was in Singapore and it was controlled from Dubai.

In a statement, the PTA denied that its representative had informed the court that TikTok had not responded to the authority's request.

"In fact, the report submitted to the court, which is part of the record, stated that TikTok is cooperating with PTA in regulating objectionable content," the statement added.

TikTok hopes for resolution

In a statement issued after the PHC order, TikTok said it used "a combination of technologies and moderation strategies" to detect and review content that violated its terms of service and community guidelines, and that it implemented penalties including removing videos and banning accounts when there were violations.

"Our H2 2020 Transparency Report shows that we aggressively and proactively take down inappropriate content in Pakistan," the company said, adding that its local-language moderation team in Pakistan had grown close to 250 per cent since September.

The statement said TikTok is "committed to continue working closely with the PTA to further strengthen our safeguards on behalf of our users, but we are also committed to ensuring our users' rights to express themselves creatively on the platform".

"We have faith that by working with the authorities to explain our policies and demonstrate our dedication to user security, we can arrive at a resolution that would allow TikTok to continue serving [its] millions of users in Pakistan," it added.

TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, was banned in October after repeated warnings by PTA over alleged ‘unethical content’. However, the PTA later restored TikTok with conditions and warnings that it adhere to the laws of the country, the platform should not be used for spreading vulgarity/indecent content and values of society should also not be abused.

In January, the Pakistan Infor­mation Commission had directed the PTA to provide minutes of a meeting and the file notes related to the banning of TikTok.

The telecom regulator was also directed to provide copies of letters or emails sent to the TikTok management in this regard by PTA, along with copies of the letter(s) or email(s) it received from the management of TikTok and copies of the notes and minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to ban the social media platform.

"Citizens of Pakistan have the right to have access to noting on the files and minutes of the meetings which led to the imposition of the ban on TikTok application so that they can judge for themselves the input provided by officers involved which led to the ban through the final order,” the PIC order said.


With additional reporting by Imran Gabol.

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