TikTok expresses concern as debate over its ban rages on

While the government seems determined to impose the ban, critics say the platform should be better regulated, not banned.

Anil Giri

Anil Giri

The Kathmandu Post


Hand of man holding mobile phone opening Tik Tok application, in shopping mall. PHOTO: Olivier Bergeron/UNSPLASH

November 20, 2023

KATHMANDU – The government’s decision on Monday to ban TikTok, a widely used social media platform, continues to be widely debated.

The reason for banning the platform is that it has disturbed “social harmony” and negatively impacted society, according to Minister for Communication and Information Technology Rekha Sharma, who is also the government spokesperson.Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal added that the ban had been imposed following “lengthy discussions and agreement [between ruling and opposition parties]. It was done in keeping with the practices adopted by established democratic and developed countries.”

He added that a debate on the ban would be natural, but that his government was motivated only by the intent of “stopping and curbing social ills and anarchy.”

On Tuesday, a day after the Cabinet decision, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) issued a notice to all internet service providers in the country to block TikTok with immediate effect.

Several government officials were against banning the platform and were instead in favour of regulating offensive content, a secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office said.

“We only discussed regulating social media including TikTok. The government then issued a social media guideline. There was nothing about banning TikTok,” the secretary, who is privy to the discussions, told the Post.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Minister Sharma defended the decision and claimed that there was a broad political consensus on the ban.

Following the decision, TikTok has expressed its concerns in an email to the Nepali telecom regulator, NTA.

“The TikTok headquarters has asked us to communicate to the government of Nepal that its serious attention had been drawn to the ‘abrupt’ decision to ban TikTok in Nepal,” said NTA Chairman Purusottam Khanal.

TikTok representatives also acknowledged the concerns of the Nepal government regarding the content on the platform and expressed its commitment to resolving the issue through discussions with Nepali officials, Khanal said.

In the email, Ferdous Mottakin, TikTok head of public policy and government relations for South Asia, raised the company’s concerns in seven points, mentioning the recent meetings with Nepali officials and the understandings reached.

“It is with great concern that we acknowledge the email received from your office today regarding the Government of Nepal’s decision to block/ban TikTok,” said the email written to Khanal on November 13. “We were as surprised as we’re sure the millions of Nepal citizens were, who have been a part of our community expressing their creativity and joy through the platform.

“In a very short span of time, we have been embraced by people of all regions, cultures, and socio-economic strata in Nepal who utilise our platform to get informed, entertained, and inspired.

“This ban will not just hamper our investment plans, it will also have a severe economic impact on our Nepali content creators, especially young adults. Nepali businesses, who have relied heavily on TikTok, use our platform to market their products and keep their businesses afloat. As a result of this ban, these businesses will be significantly affected as well.”

User safety is TikTok’s top priority, reads the letter. “We are committed to promoting a safe and welcoming environment for our community,” it said. “As a global platform, we have thousands of people across the globe where TikTok operates working to maintain a safe environment for our users. We address content and behaviour that violate our Community Guidelines through a combination of policies, technology, and moderation, which may include removing contents and accounts.”

It also stated that TikTok was registered in Nepal in August. “We registered as a digital service taxpayer in Nepal on August 29, 2023,” said the email.

On November 3, a team from TikTok visited Kathmandu and discussed with government officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs on regulating TikTok content that the Nepal government deems “anti-social and offensive”, a ministry official said.

“At the request of the NTA and the Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police, TikTok representatives had agreed to remove offensive content from the platform. After the discussion, a new social media guideline was issued, but the political leadership then banned the platform altogether,” an official who was present at the meeting with TikTok representatives told the Post.

At the meeting, TikTok representatives had suggested several measures for filtering objectionable content, the official said.

Although freedom of expression is a basic right, a large section of society has criticised TikTok for encouraging hate speech, the government said. Following the ban, opinions are divided.

As many as 30 organisations working for freedom of speech and expression issued a joint statement immediately after the ban saying that the government decision violates Article 17 (2 a) and Article 19 of the constitution and goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other laws.

Free speech advocates and even leaders of ruling parties have said the platform should be better regulated rather than banned outright.

Though the NTA immediately urged internet service providers (ISP) to implement the ban, TikTok is still accessible in Nepal the legal way. But many users have jumped to the Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to use TikTok.

“For over 90 percent of its users, we have already blocked access to TikTok, and the remaining 10 percent will also lose access soon,” NTA Chairman Khanal said.

“We need to find a way out,” he said, warning users that VPN is an insecure way of accessing social media.

An adviser to the prime minister claimed that over 90 percent of people support the ban.

Ram Deep Acharya, administrative adviser to Prime Minister Dahal, said since the government had made a policy decision to ban TikTok, there was no reason to roll it back.

“The decision was taken because unlawful and anti-social activities were increasing on TikTok. There is an issue of revenue too. TikTok should respect the decision of the government and it should come under the tax net,” said Acharya. “It has become a medium of spreading vulgarity so people support the decision, and the government will stick to it.”

Sections of the intelligentsia also seem to be supporting the ban.

“Before banning TikTok, the government should have conducted a study on its negative impact on mental health and informed the citizens properly. I haven’t seen/read about an app as toxic as this. How can it [the medium] be regulated in a country like ours where even food items aren’t regulated?” Uttam Babu Shrestha, director at the Kathmandu-based Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Institute, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The ban came after the government introduced the ‘Directives on the Operation of Social Networking 2023’. The rules require social media platforms operating in Nepal to set up their offices in the country.

A Cabinet meeting on November 10 made it mandatory for social media platforms such as Facebook, X, TikTok, YouTube and others to set up their liaison offices in Nepal.

The government said the measure was introduced in light of an increasing number of complaints that the absence of the companies’ representatives in Nepal made it difficult for the authorities to address their users’ concerns and even remove objectionable content from the platforms.

The companies will have to either establish an office or appoint a focal person in Nepal within three months of enforcing the directives. Likewise, the companies have to register their social media platforms with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. The ministry can shut down the platforms that are not registered in Nepal.

The directives include a 19-point not-to-do list for the users of platforms like Facebook, X, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.

Baburam Aryal, a lawyer with expertise in cyber law and cybersecurity, says the government ban is unconstitutional and politically motivated.

TikTok has become a victim of the rivalry between established and new political forces, which have emerged as a major threat to the old parties, Aryal said.

“It seems the established parties and the government are feeling threatened by TikTok, so they decided to ban it,” he said.

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