ISLAMABAD: The Chinese social media giant TikTok issued a cryptic statement on Saturday which called for lifting of the ban on the app in return for a vague assurance centred on the “allocation of resources” to the Pakistani market.
“If the Government of Pakistan decides to reopen access to our services in the future, we will certainly assess our allocation of resources to this market,” the carefully worded statement said.
According to some estimates, the app has been installed 43 million times in Pakistan, with 14.7 million of those coming in the year 2020 alone. The app was banned in the country on Oct 9 with the regulator citing “obscenity” as the reason.
Last Monday the app’s management said they had held a virtual meeting with Pakistani officials to iron out any differences and strengthen content moderation. But on Saturday the management said no further response had been received from the government. The statement hailed the creative energies brought by Pakistani users to the platform, and said the company was prepared to invest further in Pakistan if differences could be resolved.
“Our services remain blocked in the country and we have received no communication from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA),” the statement said.
“This is why we are disappointed that our users and creators in Pakistan are still unable to access TikTok, more than one week after our services were blocked by the PTA,” the press release said, adding that, “TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and joy, and that is just what we’ve done in Pakistan”.
“After TikTok was blocked in Pakistan, we continued to engage with the PTA to demonstrate our commitment to comply with local laws and further enhance our content moderation capacity. Though the PTA acknowledged and appreciated these efforts, our services remain blocked in the country and we have received no communication from the PTA.”
“We continue to hope that our productive dialogue with the PTA can bring assurance of the government’s commitment to a stable, enabling environment whereby we can explore investing further in the market, including in the inspiring talent we’ve seen thrive on TikTok.”
Due to the ban, “Pakistan’s vibrant online community was still unable to showcase its talent and creativity to the hundreds of millions of users worldwide; we look forward to being able to reconnect with the energetic and talented youth of Pakistan and play our role in the success story of Pakistan,” the statement added.
TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance company of China, has around 20 million active users per month, making it the third most popular social media app in the country after Facebook and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, the information technology ministry spokesman strongly reacted to the statement of TikTok, saying that IT Minister Syed Aminul Haq had already stated recently that lifting of the ban rested on TikTok “abiding by local laws and not violating the traditions of the nation.”
The spokesman said TikTok would be allowed to operate in Pakistan if it followed rules and fulfilled all regulatory requirements to the satisfaction of the government.
A senior PTA official said the TikTok management was clearly conveyed during the virtual meeting that compliance with the authority’s instructions was essential.
“The only issue is that TikTok is not providing a timeline for the results of the action it intends to take,” the official said, adding that an application could not operate in a completely independent environment without any restriction or respect to religious and societal norms.
“Internet content has to be safe from all threats; it should respect the sentiments of other communities and sections of society,” the official added.
TikTok had upgraded its community guidelines in September and also issued its Urdu version after PTA’s final warning. But complaints from the telecom regulator continued to pour in of objectionable content being posted on the platform.
An appeal has also been filed in the Islamabad High Court against the ban on the video-sharing app by a private citizen who argues his business has been badly affected by the ban.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020