October 13th, 2020 

By Hamid Riaz 


LAHORE

SOURCE OF INCOME

A simple vendor selling mobile accessories in Lahore Waseem has a solid knack for presentation.

At first, he found himself using only traditional forms of marketing but the dawn of social media apps like TikTok and Instagram gave him a whole new outlook providing him easy access to new, modern, and viral methods of marketing.

A few months ago, during the lockdown, when business was otherwise slow, Waseem decided to launch his TikTok account. Armed with a cutting sense of humor and in-depth knowledge of mobile hardware, he was able to gather over 75,000 followers in a matter of months.

“I did what I used to do at my shop – inform consumers about devices – only this time I did it in front of a camera,” says Waseem. “People enjoyed my style and benefited from the information I gave. I think this is the reason my account became so popular in such a short amount of time,” he explains.

Even though TikTok does not provide any in-built mechanism to monetize and earn off one’s video content, a vast array of informal mechanisms has popped up to fill this void.

“People contacted me and asked me to make a TikTok video featuring their device. I used to ‘honestly’ explain all the pros and cons of the device; in no time, we found interested parties. I took commissions on the sales. It was a very lucrative hustle.”

Waseem says he does not support the dissemination of immoral and vulgar content via the app but a ban is not the solution.

“It would be better if the government identified accounts spreading such content and shut them down instead of punishing everybody using the app.”

He is not the only user to make a living off of the app. The widespread usage of TikTok had created a network of such influencers, some of whom relied solely upon the app to earn their bread and butter. The government ban has adversely impacted their livelihoods especially in these times of economic hardship.

THE BAN

Considering the economic cost of poor citizens of the country, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has given very vague statements about their motivation behind the ban. On October 9, the body issued a press release claiming that the app is being banned because of “a number of complaints received from different segments of the society”.

But the presser failed to elaborate on both the “complainants” and the “content” because of which the app was banned. When contacted by Voicepk.net, the spokesperson for the PTA pointed towards another press release published on its website and refused to discuss the matter any further.

Per the latest press release published on the body’s website, the PTA is holding negotiations with TikTok executives to chart out a regulatory mechanism for the future “to improve content moderation in line with local laws”. The PTA’s chairman even lauded TikTok for its eagerness to convene with the authority in this regard but failed to provide a clear timeline for the expected restoration of the app.

THE INFLUENCERS

Though some TikTok celebrities like Jannat Mirza have (surprisingly) come out in favor of the ban, there is widespread opposition to the move by and large.

“Blanket bans are never the solution. The government should sit down with all relevant stakeholders to chart out standard operating procedures. I am sure everyone will cooperate. Nobody supports the dissemination of immoral content,” posited viral TikTok influencer, Hareem Shah.

“I don’t even consider bans to be useful. Everyone knows how to use a VPN these days. Those who don’t will learn. My followers are viewing my content regardless,” claims Hareem. “After an app is banned, regulating the content becomes even harder, hence they are counterproductive even from the government’s point of view.”

Hareem is of the opinion that the extremely abrupt rise of TikTok took the censorship regime by surprise.

“It is very hard to regulate the narrative on this app. I think this the main reason behind the ban.”

PTA: TRIGGER HAPPY WITH CONTROVERSIAL BANS

The Pakistani digital sphere is no stranger to flimsy, all-encompassing app bans. The infamous Youtube ban of 2012 which lasted for four years had devastating impacts on the vloggers and digital entrepreneurs of the country.

But the authorities have not learned their lessons. The past few months have seen a series of bans ranging from dating apps to other streaming apps such as Bigo Live. Digital rights experts claim that “Pakistan is trying to not just copy but emulate the Chinese censorship regime to limit freedom of expression online; the current ban on TikTok is part of a long campaign to strongarm tech companies into submitting to Pakistan’s censorship regime.”

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