Ban or no ban

September 12, 2021

While the government’s verdict on the PHA-proposed embargo on TikTokers in the city’s public parks is yet to come, many people think it won’t change the status quo as the mobile app remains banned

“[The authorities] could’ve come up with a better solution for sure!” — Photos by Rahat Dar
“[The authorities] could’ve come up with a better solution for sure!” — Photos by Rahat Dar

Nadeem Mirza works as a Careem driver and a part-time office boy for a renowned company in Lahore. However, the part of his day that Nadeem feels most ambitious at is the time when he is scrolling through TikTok on his phone or driving past herds of fellow TikTokers creating content on streets and in the parks of Lahore. As he drives from the Liberty Chowk to the Mall he sees groups of people like him smiling at their cell phone devices — smiling at the possibility of reaching millions and creating a name for themselves.

TikTok content creators often end up in a world full of possibilities with a following running into millions. Jannat Mirza, now a big name in the country’s entertainment industry, started as a TikToker. She soon became a sensation, as they say, amassing 15-odd million followers.

“Jannat is the queen of TikTok,” says Aleesha Ali, a regular user of the short-form video sharing mobile app. “Celebrities like her show how a regular girl born in a small town in Faisalabad can become hugely famous by committing to creating catchy content on the app.”

Ali used to spend most of her week on the marble steps of the Mall of Lahore or inside the decorated hallways of the Packages Mall, performing dance steps or short skits for her 5,000-plus followers on TikTok.

All this ended when the app was banned — yet again by the government on grounds of spreading immorality and hosting inappropriate content. After banning the app for the fourth time since its popularity in the country, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), in their public statement, said: “The action has been taken due to the continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down.”

Sehrish, a TikTok user based in Lahore disagrees. “There’s no harm in using the app for fun. I make videos and send them to my sisters and family. The government can always remove harmful content but banning the app is not done,” she says.

The relevant authorities reportedly removed six million videos from the network in June this year for vulgarity and nudity.

Justice Athar Minallah, the Islamabad High Court chief justice, also raised some of the popular concerns over the blanket ban of the Chinese mobile application. According to him, the ban amounts to moral policing by the authorities. “[The] PTA cannot use its powers in an unbridled manner to block access to a popular app, just because of its misuse by a few users,” he commented.

He urged the authorities to understand that moral policing is not their job and that the benefits of the app outweigh its disadvantages. “This blanket ban of an app that democratises creativity and is a source of considerable income for scores of citizens is foolish and anti-people,” he added.

The ban was enforced again after the horrific incident of assault of a young TikToker by 400 men surfaced on social media. The incident had taken place at the Greater Iqbal Park, in Lahore, on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day.

For many, focusing on the criminal actions of the hundreds of men was not enough. Some also blamed the victim. It was soon highlighted across social and traditional media platforms that the victim was a TikToker. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar gave statements promising absolute justice to the victim and the application was banned.

Twitter user and commentator Zeeshan Sallahudin described the government’s actions as “applying Iodex (pain relieving ointment) to a shattered spine.” Nida Kirmani, a sociology professor at LUMS, called it a “Classic example of blaming the victim and letting harassers off the hook.”

As the incident had taken place in a public park, the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) decided to respond in a manner most convenient to them — they proposed a ban on the entry of TikTokers in the city’s public parks. This came as a shock to many. A ban on the entry of stags, proposed by some, was not found appropriate.

Asif Rasheed, the media assistant at PHA, tells TNS: “So far there’s no change in policy for the entry of single men in public parks. Both families and unaccompanied men are welcome.”

The fans of the app have already found alternatives.
The fans of the app have already found alternatives.

About TikTok, he says, “The ban was proposed but it is yet to be approved by the government.”

At the end of the day, a ban on TikTokers in public parks wouldn’t matter as long as the app itself remains banned.

The fans of the app have already found alternatives. Sherish from Lahore, who famously used TikTok, says she has “switched to platforms like SnackVideo and Likey.” So have most TikTok celebrities including Seher Hayat, Alishba Anjum and Malak Hayat.

“We are not sacred of anything,” Sherish declares. “Even the girl who was harassed at the Minar-i-Pakistan premises and her friend have joined these alternative platforms to express themselves and tell us what actually happened.”

Rashid, another TikToker based in Lahore, says he still uses the app through a VPN. He says many celebrities are doing the same. He admits that he is now “scared of making videos in public; you can never be too careful.”

Munawwar Hussain, another TikTok user, says he isn’t too fond of SnackVideo and Likey as these apps don’t allow content from TikTok to be uploaded on to them. “I haven’t used the app since it was banned. I understand the government’s concerns but they could’ve come up with a better solution for sure!”

The writer is a staff member

Ban or no ban