October 20th 2020

By Rehan Piracha


TikTok, the popular video-sharing platform, has removed about 6.4 million videos from Pakistan in the first six months of 2020 as Pakistan Telecom Authority announced lifting a 10 day ban on the platform over indecent content.

However, the announcement by the telecom regulator did not explain details and procedures of the monitoring mechanism which it said the Chinese company has agreed to enforce in bid to restrict vulgar and unlawful content.  In a written response, a TikTok spokesperson said the platform was ‘working on increasing the capacity of our local language content moderation team’.

As per the transparency report, TikTok relies more heavily on technology to detect and automatically remove violating content in markets such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan.

“Maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment at TikTok is our top priority. We have robust measures to help ensure a safe and welcoming platform for users, including easy mechanisms to report content that violates our terms of use and comprehensive Community Guidelines, which are available in Urdu, the TikTok spokesperson said. “We will keep improving our moderation systems to handle content that violates our community guidelines and the local laws effectively. We are also working on increasing the capacity of our local language content moderation team.”

No specific Community Guidelines for Pakistan, says TikTok

The spokesperson clarified that the platform does not have specific Community Guidelines for users in different markets. “Community Guidelines define our code of conduct for our users globally and they clearly state what is allowed and not allowed on Tiktok,” the spokesperson said. “We just released the global community guidelines in Urdu to ensure accessibility to all users in Pakistan,” the spokesperson added.

TikTok to launch awareness campaign in Pakistan

Asked about how TiKTok will be educating its content creators in Pakistan about the laws and sensibilities in Pakistan, the TikTok spokesperson said the platform will be replicating its global video series called ‘You’re in Control’  and “For Parents ” page, in Pakistan through partnering with the relevant stakeholders to launch awareness campaigns around our Community Guidelines and responsible internet behaviour.

The TikTok spokesperson said the safety of their users was a top priority, and they have been exerting immense efforts globally to raise awareness of digital-well being and internet safety. “As part of our educational efforts, we launched a video series called ‘You’re in Control’ to raise awareness among users about the options and settings available for them to better manage their online presence,” the spokesperson said.

Additionally, the TikTok spokesperson said  the platform had a “For Parents ” page within the Safety Center which offered more information and resources to assist parents to review and adjust their teenagers’ privacy settings, help them report any inappropriate behavior and have an open dialogue with their teenager about how to be responsible and safe in all online activities.

In an earlier statement, TikTok said it welcomed lifting of the ban, adding that the platform was committed to enforcing its Community Guidelines and complying with local laws.

According to the TikTok transparency report covering the first six months of year 2020 (January 1, 2020  to June 30, 2020), the platform had removed 6,454,384 videos from Pakistan, making it the third top most country after India and the United States for removal of content. Tiktok removed 37,682,924 videos from India while 9,822,996 videos were removed in the United States. Brazil with 5,525,783 videos and the United Kingdom with 2,949,620 videos were fourth and fifth in terms of removal of content.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, TikTok relied more heavily on technology to detect and automatically remove violating content in markets such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan. Of the total videos removed, 10,698,297 were flagged and removed automatically for violating the platform’s Community Guidelines.

Interestingly, law enforcement agencies from Pakistan sent about a total of 6 requests for user information about six accounts to TikTok from January 1 to June 30, 2020. However, TikTok provided user information in only 17% of the requests after receiving information like a subpoena, court order, or warrant, or submission of an emergency request.

2 accounts blocked, 129 videos removed on govt request: TikTok report

Similarly, the government agencies in Pakistan sent four requests for content removal and restriction for a total of 40 accounts during the period. In response, TikTok removed restricted two accounts and restricted/removed 129 videos from its platform.

Ban lifted with conditions: PTA

In a statement on October 19, the PTA announced that the regulator was lifting the ban on the application following assurances from the Chinese company of moderating content in accordance with societal norms and the laws of Pakistan. The TikTok management has ensured that the users who are continuously involved in uploading unlawful content are blocked from the platform, according to the PTA statement. The PTA had banned the app over complaints about indecent content on October 9.

In view of the presence of vulgar, indecent/immoral content on the platform and its negative effects on the society, PTA has been continuously asserting TikTok to prevent its platform from disseminating the unlawful content, the statement added. However, TikTok couldn’t satisfy the PTA for taking concrete steps for blocking and removal of unlawful content. Hence, the TikTok application was blocked until a satisfactory content monitoring mechanism was put in place.

PTA, as a facilitator to the users’ healthy digital experience on the internet and growth of digital companies, has therefore, decided to lift the ban. However, the authority warned that the restoration of TikTok services was ‘strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content and that the societal values will not be abused’. “PTA will be constrained to permanently block the application, in case condition is not fulfilled,” the PTA statement concluded.

In a statement on October 19, TikTok welcomed the lifting of the ban in Pakistan. “We’re pleased to see that the TikTok app has been unblocked in Pakistan. We appreciate the PTA’s commitment to ongoing productive dialogue and recognize their care for the digital experience of Pakistani users.

“At TikTok, we’re committed to enforcing our Community Guidelines and complying with local laws in all markets in which we operate, as these are pillars of our work to promote a safe and positive community online. ”

“The creativity and passion of this community has brought joy to households across Pakistan and opened vital economic opportunities to incredibly talented creators, and we’re excited to be able to continue enabling Pakistani voices and creativity as we work to support the success story of Pakistan” the statement said.

TikTok has 20 million users in the country. According to ByteDance, parent company of TikTok, the platform has been downloaded 25 million times in Pakistan. User behavior data shows that the app is opened an average of five times a day, generating 14 billion views a month, and consuming an average 34 minutes of each user’s day. According to Sensor Tower data pertaining to the first and second quarters of 2020, TikTok has ranked in the top five most downloaded apps in Pakistan, on both the Google Play store and the Apple App Store.

What are the TikTok Community Guidelines and local laws?

Under Section 37 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016, the PTA has authority to remove unlaw online content.

“The Authority shall have the power to remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act,” reads Section 37 of PECA 2016.

The TikTok Community Guidelines restrict users from not posting content depicting adult nudity and sexual activities. The platform will not allow content that depicts or disseminates child abuse, child nudity, or sexual exploitation of children in both digital and real world format. The platform has said it would report such content to relevant legal authorities. According to the guidelines, TikTok was deeply committed to child safety and had zero tolerance for predatory or grooming behavior toward minors.

The Community Guidelines forbids users from not posting content relating to hate groups, violent extremist organizations, homicide, human trafficking, organ trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, blackmailing, money laundering, fraud and cybercrime. The Community Guidelines also forbid violent and graphic content related to human and animals.