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The TikTok Phenomenon By Safa Imran

In Pakistan, when TikTok comes to mind, one immediately thinks of it as being one of the most frequently banned social media platforms in Pakistan. Almost on a coordinated monthly basis, there is a new court order that mandates the banning of the platform because it did not abide by PTA’s rules of blocking accounts that propagate “vulgarity.” In fact, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry expressed his own outrage at the banning, stating that “"My head is spinning after reading about the decision to ban TikTok... What are our courts doing? The country has already suffered losses worth billions of dollars due to judicial activism."

There is little critical discussion behind why TikTok in particular is targeted – “vulgar” content can be found on any mainstream social media platform, and it is a feature of using the Internet as a whole. However, what makes TikTok unique is that when it first emerged within Pakistan, much of the lower middle class and working-class groups of the country, who are the otherwise underrepresented masses, joined the community. It was them who made TikTok flourish in popularity, and it is wonderful to see content creators who make videos primarily in Urdu, utilize local music, and showcase lifestyles, comedy and narratives that the average Pakistani citizen can relate to and engage in.

Above, you can see a screenshot of an account run by Usman Asim, a shopkeeper who has amassed millions of followers. And he is one of many such people who have found themselves with followers in the thousands and even millions, and the ability to influence and content create. Since TikTok is clearly one of the few truly democratic social media spaces where the masses have significant input in, this is one of the very reasons why that the state feels more anxious in regulating and policing it. A social media space that has given unprecedented access to sizeable groups of the population that was previously left out is something that needs to be monitored carefully by the eyes of a police state. Vulgarity, therefore, becomes a petty and superficial reason that acts as a scapegoat to mask what are really censoring efforts. Even if vulgarity has been perceived (though what is vulgar is usually only applied to women even if they are doing innocuous things like dancing), it is something that cannot be escaped anywhere on the Internet, so why target TikTok in particular? It is unfortunate that the freedom of speech and expression of countless Pakistani citizens is at stake every time government mechanisms find a new excuse to arbitrarily ban a social media platform.


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