Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator ordered providers to block the popular social media app TikTok on Friday due to the company’s inability to remove “immoral” and “indecent” content.
In a statement, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said it gave TikTok “considerable time to respond and comply” with its instructions to moderate “unlawful online content” but said the company did not cooperate. In June, the app was put on “final notice” over its alleged failure to remove what the Pakistani government called “obscenity, vulgarity and immorality.”
Pakistan’s federal minister of science and technology, Fawad Chaudhry, however, said he disapproved of “moral policing” of apps by the courts and the PTA, though he did not name TikTok specifically in his statement.
Laura Perez, a TikTok spokesperson, said the company hopes to resolve the matter with the Pakistani government. “We believe feeling safe helps people feel comfortable expressing themselves openly and allows creativity to flourish,” Perez said in a statement. “We have robust protections in place to support a safe and welcoming platform for our community, including moderation, clear Community Guidelines, and easy mechanisms to report content for review.”
In the first six months of 2020, TikTok was downloaded 14.7 million times in Pakistan and was TikTok’s 12th largest market during that time, according to the app analytics firm Sensor Tower. By contrast, TikTok was downloaded 165.6 million times in the United States (its third biggest market) and 659.2 million in India (its top market) in the same time frame.
TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, a company with roots in China, was previously banned in India in June after the two Asian superpowers sparred along a shared border. India’s electronics regulator said the apps “pose a threat to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India.” At the time, India was TikTok’s largest market.
The U.S. government also called TikTok a national security threat and the Trump administration used two executive orders to try to ban the app in the country. After a summer of negotiations with potential buyers and the government—plus a still-ongoing lawsuit over whether new app downloads are permissible—TikTok has nearly finalized a plan to spin off into a new U.S.-based company. As part of that deal, Oracle and Walmart will control a combined 20% of the new company, which is expected to eventually go public on a U.S. stock exchange.
TikTok also pulled out of Hong Kong this summer after the semi-autonomous region issued a new national security law that threatened free expression and internet companies that don’t comply with government takedown requests.
In the second half of 2019, TikTok removed 3.7 million videos in Pakistan for violating its community guidelines or terms of service, according to a recent transparency report. During that time, the company self-reported receiving one government request for information about a single account, but said it did not comply for unspecified reasons. TikTok did not, however, self-report any takedown requests from the Pakistani government during that time.