TikTok Versus The World: A Love-Hate Story

India, Pakistan, USA, Hong Kong, Australia, Indonesia, Japan… we’re not brushing up on our general knowledge, but listing the countries that have banned, or are planning to ban TikTok in their countries.

This popular Chinese app has gained a lot of popularity outside of its hometown. It has over 800 million users across the globe, with 2.6 million downloads on Android, and stands as the number 1 entertainment on Apple’s App Store. But despite its popularity, it’s been facing a lot of controversies, and not just because of its content.

What’s the fuss?

Let’s talk on a global level first. TikTok’s algorithm is highly intuitive and can grab a user’s attention for hours because of its simple scrollable interface. But that isn’t the main issue, not in most countries anyway.

TikTok is a Chinese app, and considering the political environment of the world and China’s connections to the app, a lot of countries have shown concerns over how it can be used as a data mining tool by the Chinese government, even though the app claims that its user data centers are in US and Singapore, not in China and that it has restricted the number of employees who can access that data.

Another issue is the content moderation practiced on the app. Alleged leaked documents show that TikTok censored videos featuring the Tiananmen Square – a culturally significant sight that’s also known for the 1989 massacre, Tibetan Independence – a political movement for the independence of Tibet, or the religious movement Falun Gong. However, TikTok claims that it has never censored videos based on any sensitivity and would not even do so if asked.

India has also been on TikTok’s case because of the videos uploaded on the platform. But the last nail in the coffin was India’s clash with China in June, leading to the country banning all Chinese apps to “preserve their sovereignty and integrity”.

And the controversies keep piling up…

Let’s talk about Pakistan. The app has been very popular among a millennial and GenZ audience, but some people claim that the app is producing content that “goes against our culture and norms”.

But the blanket statement by some doesn’t justify the outright ban on the platform. While countries like the USA, India, and Australia have a developed digital standing, Pakistan is just starting to gain momentum in the digital industry. And apps like TikTok enable that momentum by giving people platforms where they can create and build brands, whether corporate or personal.

Considering this, it’s safe to say that banning doesn’t serve a purpose when you consider the implications. But this isn’t anything new. Internet filtering in Pakistan has been going on since 2010 when it banned Facebook because of religious controversy. Then there was the two-year ban on YouTube that was a significant blow to our digital community, taking years away from the digital growth we could have experienced early on.

Creators and professionals have voiced their concerns repeatedly that this filtration and banning culture can seriously harm potential digital investments in Pakistan. And where our neighbor has reached multiple milestones with the help of their digital growth through Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, our growth seems stagnant, maybe because of such practices.

We understand that content produced through these apps is crucial enough to shift generational growth and education in the country. But while there are negative aspects to each of these platforms, there are positives too. Being part of the digital industry, we know how important channels like Facebook, YouTube, and even TikTok are for the growth of brands and individuals. We don’t disagree that TikTok may be a bit too cringey for our mentalities, but it’s still an international platform that has been taken and owned by our people, people who have a follower count that exceeds millions. And if their primary platform is taken away, they lose an opportunity that can take them, and Pakistan, to a level our authorities may not be thinking of.

So what is the way forward?

TikTok stands to be one of the most controversial apps of our time. Whether it’s always going to be that way or not is a question still unanswered. But the fact remains that the app is important, not only because of its creators and users but also because of the advertising opportunities it provides to brands.

Considering that, it is necessary to think about how TikTok can be used in the future to enable more growth and learning in the app, we can start promoting such content on it, rather than opposing it at all times. And the reason for the opposition isn’t because of the lack of awareness, but because people can’t relate to the content. So the fix isn’t to stop creation, it’s creating content that people can relate with. And if we do that, maybe the straight-up opposition can even turn into some beneficial growth.

What’s your take on the global TikTok controversy? Tell us in the comments.

Zainab Abdul Rehman

Content and strategy specialist with a head full of ideas that I never get time to execute.

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