Pakistan lifts ban on TikTok after app vows to moderate content

Regulatory body PTA says video-sharing app provided assurances it will block accounts spreading obscenity and immorality.

The TikTok logo is seen on a screen over Times Square in New York City
Earlier this month, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said it blocked the popular Chinese app after receiving complaints of vulgarity from different segments of society [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Authorities in Pakistan have announced the lifting of a ban on TikTok, saying they received assurances from the video-sharing app that it would “moderate” content in accordance with local laws.

“TikTok is being unlocked after assurance from management that they will block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity
and immorality,” the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a statement on Monday.

Earlier this month, the regulatory body said it had blocked the popular app after receiving complaints of vulgarity from members of the public.

In a statement published on Saturday, TikTok said it was “disappointed” that users in Pakistan were unable to access its service.

“Over the past year, we’ve made concerted efforts to address questions from the Government of Pakistan around our content moderation process, including significantly increasing the capacity of our local language content moderation team,” TikTok said in a statement.

The company said that even after the ban, it continued to “engage with the PTA to demonstrate our commitment to comply with local laws”.

“Though the PTA acknowledged and appreciated these efforts, our services remain blocked in the country and we have received no communication from PTA,” the statement added.

History of censorship

The move against TikTok came months after livestreaming app Bigo Live was banned for the same reasons, while dating app Tinder has also been blocked in recent months.

In August, authorities warned YouTube to block “vulgarity and hate speech”. The online video platform introduced a localised version in Pakistan after a ban that lasted for several months in 2012 following protests against a movie deemed insulting to Prophet Muhammad.

In 2016, Pakistan’s parliament passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act to regulate, among other things, online content.

It gave the PTA broad powers to block content considered to be against “the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or … public order, decency or morality”.

Rights groups said PTA had blocked more than 800,000 websites and platforms from being accessed within the country.

The list of blocked websites includes pornographic platforms but has also included news outlets considered critical of the country’s security and foreign policies, some social media and some websites of political parties.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies