TikTok blocked, again

Published March 13, 2021

ON the direction of the Peshawar High Court, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has once again banned TikTok in Pakistan with immediate effect. This ban follows an earlier one, unilaterally imposed by PTA on the Chinese app last October. Access was eventually restored some days later, after representatives of the social network assured the telecom regulator that they would cooperate with the Pakistan government in accommodating its requests for stricter moderation and content removal. In response to this latest move, TikTok released a statement in which it claimed it was “aggressively and proactively” complying with this pledge, including by growing its local-language moderation team by almost 250pc since September, but that it was also committed to ensuring its users’ “rights to express themselves creatively on the platform”.

Meanwhile, Minister Fawad Chaudhry has termed the ban one that citizens “will pay a huge price” for, and has offered to conduct “tech modules” for judges through his Ministry for Science and Technology, echoing statements he made last month in which he lamented that Pakistan’s industry and its relations with tech companies had been hampered by ill-conceived state policies and court decisions. This is a succinct summary of the problem with imposing wholesale bans on online services in the digital age, but the fact that TikTok bears the brunt of such capricious and arbitrary moral policing is particularly curious, given that similarly ‘immoral’ and ‘indecent’ content exists on all social media platforms. The only explanation for this outsized focus on TikTok, perhaps, is the fact that it is considered ‘the people’s platform’, with unparalleled popularity among Pakistan’s working class — many of whom have successfully leveraged their online profiles to earn incomes for themselves and reach audiences ranging in the millions. With the government struggling to create jobs amid stagnant growth, this country’s decision-makers should be more concerned with facilitating those who are using talent and innovation to generate revenue and opportunities, instead of taking it upon themselves to turn the country into a nanny state.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2021

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