In what looks to be a bimonthly practice, TikTok has been blocked by the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) once again after the Peshawar High Court ordered an all-out ban to be imposed on grounds of violating the country’s moral and social norms. Keeping in mind the frequency with which the platform is targeted, one can only deduce a serious lack of technological and social knowhow on part of the authorities in discerning what content might be unconstitutional per se. Regardless, dillydallying on the matter is not acceptable anymore. A clear path must be charted and a final decision must be made for the sake of stability.
With TikTok inaccessible to all of Pakistan, the founding company immediately came forward with a defensive explanation citing the extraordinary measures it is already taking for content regulation in Pakistan. They stated that their H2 2020 Transparency Report reflects their strict adherence to national laws and their willingness to adapt to the country’s traditions in order to remain functional within its borders.
Clearly, the fine line between surveillance and freedom of expression is being dealt with rather carefully and such efforts of the company should not be disregarded, especially in light of the fact that it has even become a source of livelihood for millions of Pakistanis.
What constitutes blatantly unconstitutional content has always been clear to all creators, channels and companies. It is imperative that the government takes the initiative to understand the nature of social media platforms and how they are not in violation of major laws.
In fact, in matters of hate, content removal committees are already actively signalling that the main objective of protecting the sanctity of societal norms is being fulfilled already. Only when such misconceptions are clarified is when it is possible to have a frank dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders about the unnecessary extents to which such platforms have been scrutinised.
This includes state institutions, the judiciary, the public and even companies themselves. Whatever direction is decided upon for the future of such platforms, it must be a decision that is final and not subject to further change. Oscillating between two potential realities is not viable.
Newspaper: The Nation (Editorial)