Pakistan banned TikTok on Friday for carrying what it called indecent content, making it the latest country to restrict the wildly popular Chinese video-sharing app, which is also battling being blocked in the U.S.
India banned the app in June along with dozens of others from China, citing cyber security concerns. It is facing a ban in the U.S. in November if the company doesn’t seal a deal with
intended to safeguard the data of U.S. users.
The fact that it is being shut down in Pakistan—one of Beijing’s closest allies—is particularly bad news for the company. Some investors in TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, are concerned that while the app could weather losing access to individual markets, the loss of multiple countries could be devastating.
Pakistan regards China as its most reliable ally and has considered it a strategic partner for decades. Pakistan is a showcase for Beijing’s global program to build infrastructure overseas.
Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator said that some content carried on TikTok broke the law in Pakistan for being immoral and indecent. Repeated requests to the app to filter out the content hadn’t worked, the regulator said.
“TikTok is an inclusive platform built upon the foundation of creative expression, and we are hopeful to reach a conclusion that helps us serve the country’s vibrant and creative online community,” said a TikTok spokesperson.
TikTok is popular in Pakistan, turning ordinary people—often from remote corners of the country—into celebrities overnight, with wacky videos. It also carried criticism of the government on issues that concern poorer people the most, such as rising prices of food.
“TikTok was the only way the poor had a voice in the social media revolution that until this platform had largely passed them by,” said Habib Khan, a director of a Karachi-based digital marketing company called Penumbra.
TikTok also has much Islamic content, such as users singing traditional religious songs or Muslims challenging Hollywood stereotypes of the community in the U.S.
In neighboring India there was a similar phenomenon of people turning into stars until the country banned TikTok and others in response to the deadly encounter between Indian and Chinese troops along the countries’ disputed border in the Himalayas.
A Pakistani official said that the authorities were primarily concerned about nudity on the app. He said that Pakistan had asked for TikTok to put a filter in place that automatically blocked the content it deemed indecent but the posting of the videos was much faster than the taking down. He said that they weren’t concerned about political content on the platform.
“TikTok has been informed that the Authority is open for engagement and will review its decision subject to a satisfactory mechanism by TikTok to moderate unlawful content,” the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which regulates the sector, said in a statement.
TikTok has also run into trouble in the past with Indonesia, Bangladesh and India over content described by those governments as pornographic.
In Egypt, the reaction to TikTok has been more draconian, with arrests of women posting videos of themselves singing and dancing on the app—with clothes on.
Since April 2020, the Egyptian authorities have arrested 10 women TikTok influencers and put them on trial for violating cyber-crimes law, “and other overly vague legal provisions related to ‘decency’ and ‘inciting immorality’”, Amnesty International said in August. Four of the women were sentenced to prison terms ranging between two and three years and heavy fines, while six others are awaiting trial, the human rights group said.
In Pakistan, the TikTok ban comes after the country blocked dating apps last month, including Tinder, for supposedly aiding prostitution.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said that he wants to promote a “digital Pakistan” but critics say the authorities are increasingly restricting the internet instead. The government is currently working on new rules that would force social media companies to remove content it deems objectionable.
—Waqar Gillani in Islamabad contributed to this article.