TikTok’s triumph and turmoil in Nepal
The rapid ascent of TikTok has undoubtedly sent shockwaves through long-standing social and information technology giants, prompting speculation about the impact of its meteoric success
TikTok, originally launched in September 2016 in China, has swiftly risen to become the dominant website of 2021, surpassing even Google just three years after its global debut. The China-based short video hosting platform, featuring content ranging from 3 seconds to 10 minutes, boasts over two billion mobile downloads and a user base exceeding 1.6bn worldwide.
The rapid ascent of TikTok has undoubtedly sent shockwaves through long-standing social and information technology giants, prompting speculation about the impact of its meteoric success. It is not surprising that countries at the forefront of showcasing internet products, notably the United States, may have felt threatened by TikTok's rapid growth. Former President Donald Trump initiated a ban on TikTok in the USA in 2020, and now, under President Biden's administration, the company's CEO has testified before Congress. As a result, TikTok has established separate operations in the US.
Approximately 70 percent of the US states have imposed restrictions on federal and state employees, prohibiting the use of TikTok on government devices. This trend extends globally, with Britain and New Zealand also implementing similar bans recently. Montana has notably become the first state in the US to completely ban TikTok. India banned TikTok in 2020 citing concerns about potential data misuse by the company under the influence of the Chinese government. Now Nepal has jumped on the bandwagon of countries banning TikTok.
The escalating tensions between the US and its allies against Chinese influence, encompassing various domains, notably the internet and technology sectors, have been conspicuous. This protracted economic rivalry and geopolitical power play reflect a larger global competition for supremacy. The contest to be the global commander involves strategic maneuvers and countermeasures, not solely in response to China's restrictions on foreign internet websites, but as part of a broader geopolitical strategy. However, the recent TikTok ban in Nepal appears to be an exception to this broader geopolitical game.
The "tap-tap" culture introduced by TikTok has had far-reaching consequences in Nepal. With internet penetration surpassing half of the population, a significant portion of the population is directly or indirectly exposed to TikTok content. Thousands of Nepali TikTok influencers leverage the platform to garner millions of engagements, often with content that may not be particularly thought-provoking or knowledge-intensive. The allure of these influencers prompts followers to send online gifts, often burning their hard-earned money.
It is important to note that not all TikTok content lacks substance; there are individuals producing meaningful and commendable content. However, the TikTok algorithm's impact on youth culture is a concern that extends beyond entertainment. The addictive nature of TikTok, with its endless scroll and short, engaging videos, has raised alarms about the potential for a decline in attention span, particularly among younger users. The constant consumption of content, customized to cater to individual preferences, can create a digital crevasse where users find themselves trapped in a loop of content that aligns with their existing interests.
Moreover, the emergence of self-proclaimed gurus, pundits, and specialists on TikTok, often lacking in authenticity and factual accuracy, poses a significant challenge. The platform's user base, especially those new to the internet and lacking cyber awareness, may readily embrace and internalize information without critical scrutiny. This can lead to the proliferation of misinformation and the elevation of individuals with unverified expertise.
The rise of pseudo-experts on TikTok, providing health advice, dietary recommendations, or astrological predictions, undermines the credibility of genuine professionals in these fields. The influx of sensationalized content may dilute the nuanced understanding of professional capacities, potentially eroding the public's trust in expert advice.
The exploitation of visual sexualization and spoken vulgarity by youth users on TikTok, driven by the desire to become viral, raises valid concerns about the platform's appropriateness in family and public settings. The platform's openness and ease of access create challenges for parents in managing and controlling their children's exposure to potentially harmful material. The darker side of TikTok fame, with individuals experiencing overnight celebrity status followed by struggles and even mental health issues, highlights the psychological toll of chasing online validation. Then there are examples of tragic incidents, such as accidents resulting from risky behavior while attempting to create TikTok videos.
On the positive side, TikTok serves as a tool for business promotion, travel advice, and destination recommendations. The majority of the 2.2m active Nepali TikTok users engage with the platform not only for entertainment but also for market research and decision-making in purchasing products. While TikTok has undoubtedly provided a platform for those with genuine talents, the broader question arises about the risks and trade-offs associated with endorsing the platform for a few positive aspects.
The decision to ban TikTok may indeed prompt legal challenges from influencers, lawyers, and activists who argue that it infringes on constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, access to information, and media independence. However, if the government can provide a proper justification, the ban will prevail as bigger democracies in the neighborhood, Europe, and parts of Africa have continued to ban the platform.
Banning internet products should not be the default solution unless there is a lack of self-awareness and discernment among users. TikTok, along with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, should have been subject to close surveillance due to evident cases of users engaging in impersonation, generating explicit content, spreading misinformation for personal gains, and fostering a culture of verbal abuse and hatred. In a country like ours where lawmakers understand 'e-commerce' as selling electricity, we cannot expect a nuanced policy that addresses platform misuse and promotes positive use.
The prevailing tendency toward a black or white policy—either 'allow' if it works or 'ban' if it doesn't—reveals a lack of thorough research and strategic decision-making by the administration. This failure is particularly evident in the case of TikTok, where a blanket ban has been implemented instead of a targeted approach to address specific content-related issues. The ban may have stemmed from the involvement of political leaders in numerous scandals as well as the alleged use of the platform to promote social disharmony and casteism. The new directive on social network operations should serve as a catalyst for formulating comprehensive laws regulating social media.
Without such regulations, other platforms with similar algorithms and content, such as Facebook or Instagram reels and YouTube Shorts, may face similar bans. If lawmakers channel their collective efforts into establishing robust rules, there is a possibility that TikTok could be reinstated with certain changes like in Pakistan where the ban was revoked within two weeks. It is evident that the future will be increasingly reliant on internet products. So it is imperative to draft and implement regulations promptly in such a way that there is sufficient room for refinement based on evolving needs.
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