Pakistan reverses TikTok ban

Pakistan's telecommunications regulator said TikTok has "assured" it that it will moderate content "in accordance with societal norms and the laws of Pakistan".

TikTok has been reinstated in Pakistan just 10 days after the government blocked the app over its apparent failure to remove "immoral and indecent content".

Pakistan's telecommunications regulator released a statement late Monday (October 20) confirming it had restored TikTok's services "with certain conditions".

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said TikTok has "assured" the regulator that it will moderate content "in accordance with societal norms and the laws of Pakistan".

"The restoration of TikTok services is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content and that the societal values will not be abused. PTA will be constrained to permanently block the application in case said condition is not fulfilled," the authority said in a statement.

The decision was made after TikTok's senior management held a virtual meeting with the PTA on October 12. During the meeting, TikTok representatives "highlighted the efforts that have been taken" and "shared future strategy to improve content moderation in line with local laws", according to a PTA release. In response, the PTA asked for "tangible timelines for the proposed actions", it said.

A TikTok spokesperson told Campaign Asia-Pacific: "We're pleased to see that TikTok service has been restored in Pakistan. The creativity and passion of this community has brought joy to households across Pakistan and opened vital economic opportunities to incredibly talented creators, and we're excited to be able to continue enabling Pakistani voices and creativity."

The PTA blocked TikTok from operating in Pakistan on October 9 after the app failed to meet its demands, it claimed.

It had issued a final notice to TikTok in July after receiving complaints about "immoral, obscene and vulgar content" present on the app. At the time, it requested TikTok put in place a "comprehensive mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity and immorality through its social-media application", it said in a statement on July 20. Singapore-headquartered Bigo was immediately banned over the same concerns.

But according to the PTA, TikTok "failed to fully comply with the instructions, therefore, directions were issued for blocking of TikTok application in the country", the regulator said at the time of the ban.

Pakistan is the third largest market in which TikTok removed videos during the first half of 2020, according to the platform's H1 transparency report. A total of 6.45 million videos were removed in Pakistan between January 1 and June 30.

However, TikTok removed or restricted only two out of 40 accounts requested by the Pakistan government, according to the transparency report. A further 129 pieces of content were removed or restricted in the time frame.

It appears as though content moderation may be stricter in the country going forward to appease the PTA's demands.

The PTA has sweeping powers to block or remove content it deems necessary under the The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), a controversial cyber-security law passed in 2016. The PTA has blocked a total of 830,000 websites since the law was enacted, according to a report by Pakistan Today.

Pakistan's ban follows that of neighbouring India, which banned TikTok in June as part of a broad crackdown on Chinese-owned apps. Where the PTA has said it is taking action against social-media apps over their "extremely negative effects on the society in general and youth in particular", the Indian government stated that it banned TikTok over security risks related to India's sovereignty. The latter was given as a chief reason for the US president's action against TikTok, which is facing a ban in the country as it negotiates terms of its proposed new US-headquartered business.

This article first appeared on campaignasia.com.

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