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Once again, Pakistan overturns ban on TikTok following promises to control obscene content

Complaints about ‘indecent’ and ‘immoral’ content on TikTok has spelt turbulent times for the platform in Pakistan.

After nearly 4 months of continuous blocking, the longest yet, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced that it has restored TikTok’s services in the country on November 19. The short-video platform has faced multiple short-term bans imposed by the PTA which said that it has received assurances from TikTok to “control unlawful content in accordance with local laws and societal norms”. 

“The company also assured that the users who are continuously involved in uploading unlawful content will be blocked from using the platform. Keeping in view the assurances, the Authority has decided to lift the ban on TikTok forthwith,” the PTA tweeted. However, it also added that it will continue to monitor the platform. In September, TikTok had reportedly set up a 24×7 team of moderators to filter ‘vulgar’ content in line with Pakistani laws and norms.

From allegations that TikTok’s algorithm conducts inherent censorship to promotion of child pornography, TikTok has been in hot water for its content moderation practices in various countries. Pakistan’s history with TikTok indicates why social media platforms are grappling to handle sexually explicit content.

Previous action faced by TikTok in Pakistan

In July 2020, TikTok was issued a ‘final warning’ by the PTA after it received complaints that the platform hosted immoral content.

In October 2020, the PTA had blocked TikTok for 10 days for allowing “obscene” and “immoral” content. The ban was overturned after similar assurances were made by TikTok.

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In March 2021, the Peshawar High Court reportedly said that the app violated the country’s “constitutional provision ensuring the upkeep of citizens’ social and moral welfare” and ordered PTA to ban it. The order was reversed in April after the court asked the PTA to ensure such content was not posted to the platform.

In June 2021, the Sindh High Court reportedly asked the telecommunication authority to block TikTok again on grounds of immorality and obscenity. This order was lifted after three days.

In July 2021, the PTA blocked TikTok after a court reportedly ruled that the company was promoting obscenity.

Allegations related to obscenity on TikTok

Beyond Pakistan, TikTok has faced criticism for obscene content in various countries including India.

In April 2019, TikTok was banned in India by the Madras High Court, which said it was spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting the mental health of its users. That month, a BBC investigation found that the platform had failed to suspend the accounts of users sending sexually explicit messages to children.

In January 2021, TikTok’s Chinese version Duoyin was reportedly fined by regulators for hosting ‘obscene, pornographic and vulgar information’.

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In November 2021, a US Congress Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to TikTok on how its algorithms work, especially in relation to underage users. According to a report, the letter expresses concern over “TikTok’s troubling practice of showing dangerous content to minors, including sex- and drug-related videos and videos peddling COVID-19 misinformation.”

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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