KARACHI: TikTok will be unblocked in Pakistan if the platform removes “vulgar” content, a government minister said Saturday.
The Chinese app was banned for failing to remove “immoral” content after being given time to comply with instructions from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
Information and Technology Minister Syed Aminul Haque said the block would be lifted if the app carried out the required cleanup.
"For the time being, (TikTok) has been closed,” he told Arab News. “If they give a guarantee, then it will be allowed to reopen. They were warned twice during the last three months to remove the vulgarity-related content. Every time they promised, but did not comply.”
He said that the government was ready to talk to TikTok.
“If they approach (us), we will sit with them and after removal of the content, it (the app) will be restored,” Haque added.
In September the PTA said it had approached TikTok to immediately block “objectionable content” available on its platform in Pakistan and prevent the use of its platform “for disseminating illegal content.”
It did not say at the time what actions it would take if TikTok did not comply.
The decision to block the app has caused a debate, with experts warning that it would have an adverse economic impact.
“Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok are the cheapest source of marketing outreach and fastest conversion sources,” Badar Khushnood, a member of the National E-Commerce Council, told Arab News. “If the touch points of access to the market are closed and we don’t understand their needs, then many small and micro businesses will be affected. Their marketing cost was low due to these marketing tools. It would be far better to make a decision by multi-stakeholder engagement. We need to understand how these new communication technologies operate. How to align our cultural, religious, and national agendas with them for this deep multi-stakeholder engagement is must.”
The ban is also seen as detrimental to the government’s Digital Pakistan Policy to accelerate digitization for economic development.
“It shows a regulatory environment where apps can be blocked and that makes the environment unfriendly to investors, especially in the tech sector at a time where the IT sector is growing," Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, a civil society organization geared toward advocacy, policy, and research in the areas of digital rights in Pakistan, told Arab News. “Moreover, apps like TikTok are a source of income for thousands of content creators, with some having a following of more than 10 million. This shows the economic potential that such a ban averts to the detriment of so many creative Pakistanis.”
One of Pakistan's most popular TikTok celebrities, Hareem Shah, said the ban would affect those who made a living from the platform.
“If we look at TikTok, there are many poor (people) who have taken to this platform as a means of livelihood,” she added. “Their means of livelihood has been taken away ... This should not happen.”
According to political analysts, blocking social media platforms made Pakistan look like a country that was unenthusiastic about allowing innovative disruptive technology companies to grow.
Pakistan blocked five dating apps in August: Tinder, Tagged, Skout, Grindr and SayHi.
In July, the PTA said it had banned the Singaporean live-streaming app Bigo over “immoral, obscene and vulgar content.” Bigo was subsequently unblocked. The hugely popular online game PUBG was also banned in Pakistan throughout July.
“Applying laws in such a broad manner does not send the right message to local and international investors and start-ups,” political economist Uzair Younus told Arab News. “It raises clouds over Pakistan’s technology sector.”