ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Explained: Why Has TikTok Ban in Nepal Sparked a Debate on Freedom of Speech?

The government said the app was disrupting “social harmony, family structure and family relations.”

Published
Explainers
5 min read
story-hero-img
i
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large

Earlier this week, Nepal imposed a ban on the video-sharing app TikTok, citing its negative effects on the country. Rekha Sharma, Nepal's minister for communications and information technology, on Monday, 13 November, said that TikTok was disrupting "our social harmony, family structure, and family relations.”

The Nepalese government said that it had reached out to TikTok multiple times but the company declined to address its concerns about "troubling" content.

The government last raised the issue with TikTok representatives nine days ago but to no avail, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology Adviser Narendra KC told The New York Times.

The move also comes days after the Nepalese government released a directive for social media platforms outlining forbidden content, which includes hate speech, the promotion of sexual exploitation and drugs, fake news, terrorism-related messages, and private photos posted without consent.

But the ban has not gone down well with many and has sparked a debate on freedom of expression and an independent media in Nepal, where the society is considered to be relatively more open and progressive. Why? The Quint explains.

Explained: Why Has TikTok Ban in Nepal Sparked a Debate on Freedom of Speech?

  1. 1. TikTok's Soaring Popularity in Nepal

    Usage of TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, spiked in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching about 2.2 million active users in the region.

    A 2022 survey conducted by Sharecast Initiative, a not-for-profit distributing company that focuses on audience data and digital media platforms, showed that 56 percent of the surveyed Nepalese people who were on the internet said that they used TikTok.

    Speaking to The Quint, Sharecast Initative CEO Madhu Acharya explained the reason behind Tiktok's meteoric rise in Nepal.

    "TikTok’s algorithm is tweaked in such a manner that makes it highly addictive, and that is the reason for its rapid spread in Nepal,” Acharya said. And it did not take long for Nepalese users to become content creators on the app.

    "A specific feature on the app (the TikTok Live feature) had become an entrepreneurial goldmine for the Nepalese people. TikTok creators using the feature used to host ‘Follow for Follow’ lives where they would instruct hopefuls wanting to go Live to follow each other," he added.

    "The app required creators to have a thousand followers to go live. All these lives would prioritise 'gifters', encouraging viewers to send creators gifts, which are nothing but currencies in the virtual world of TikTok Live. Creators could redeem real money from the gifts. This way it had become a source of livelihood for many," Acharya elaborated.

    However, Acharya also pointed out that there have been concerns about "cultural invasion through [TikTok] content, and that the government is worried about it being utilised by those opposed to the secular and republican constitution of the country.”
    Expand
  2. 2. Was the TikTok Ban in Nepal Political?

    "A large section of society has criticised the app for encouraging a tendency of hate speech," the Nepal government reportedly claimed while making the decision to ban TikTok.

    In the past four years, 1,647 cases of cybercrime have been reported on the video-sharing app in the country, the Kathmandu Post reported.

    Recently, controversial local businessman Durga Prasai launched a political campaign on TikTok, calling for the reinstatement of a Hindu monarchy in Nepal. He further urged over 1,00,000 people to join a rally in Kathmandu on 21 November.

    On the other hand, Prasai has also taken on significant debt after he reportedly borrowed loans to set up a hospital in eastern Nepal. As part of his campaign, Prasai has demanded that loans of up to Rs 2 million be waived off. But many in Nepal see his anti-establishment, political stance as a way of furthering his self-interests.

    "And the government does not want to give him or people like him the platform to do that. TikTok was giving that platform to him," said Sharecast's Acharya.

    He also added that over the past few months, there have been incidents of communal violence erupting in the country (specifically in Nepalgunj, Janakpur) after certain social media posts went viral.

    "Given the reach TikTok has in Nepal, a small communal flare-up can also turn really big, which may also have guided the government to come to the decision [of banning the app]," Acharya reasoned.

    Expand
  3. 3. Fake News Dogs TikTok in Nepal

    Deepak Adhikari, the editor of fact-checking website Nepal Check, told The Quint that he has been scanning TikTok for the past three years and has found more fake news than right information there.

    Specifically, he added, there is more misinformation than disinformation.

    "There have been verbal attacks on TikTok between Muslims, Hindus, and some indigenous communities specifically, over the slaughter of cows," explained Acharya.

    For instance, in August this year, a purported video showing people consuming beef in Nepal's Dharan triggered a row on social media. A few days later, a prohibitory order was imposed in Dharan after Hindu groups planned a protest against the cow slaughter.

    Various Hindu groups were scheduled to organise a rally against cow slaughter on 26 August. People from several districts gathered in Itahari, a city in eastern Nepal, and proceeded towards Dharan. However, the police stopped them as there were concerns about potential communal clashes.

    On 26 August, visuals purportedly showing hundreds of people bearing Hindu religious flags and parading through the streets went viral on social media platforms, including TikTok, with the claim that it showed a massive rally in Dharan.

    However, Adhikari's fact-checking team found that the visuals were from a religious procession in Birgunj, a city in southern Nepal, from two months ago.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'Regulation and Not Ban Is the Solution'

    Opposition leaders and activists have strongly criticised the TikTok ban in Nepal.

    Nepal Congress general secretary Gagan Thapa questioned the government’s decision to ban the app and pushed for restrictions to be imposed instead.

    “The government’s decision should be rectified as it violates freedom of expression and individual freedom,” Thapa said on X.

    He also told local media channels that "regulation is necessary to discourage those who abuse social media, but shutting down social media in the name of regulation is completely wrong."

    "For Nepalese people, TikTok represents freedom of expression cutting across caste and religious lines. Banning it is to curtain freedom of speech. How will the government be held accountable if there is no criticism of it?" Bipin Adhikari, an expert in constitutional law, told The Quint.

    "If you have a boil on your neck, you don’t chop off your neck. Identify those who are misusing the platform. But shutting down TikTok is undemocratic," Bishwa Prakash Sharma, who is with a Nepal Congress faction that's opposed to party president Sher Bahadur Deuba, wrote on X.

    Additionally, Freedom Forum founder Taranath Dahal told The New York Times that the Nepalese government’s process for banning the platform "lacked transparency and raised concerns that the country is also heading toward building a controlled society.”

    Dahal pointed out that the government issued new directives for social media platforms only last week, giving the tech firms just three months to comply.

    He said that the decision to “abruptly” shut down one platform that was not significantly different than the others went against Nepal’s “image of a liberal democracy.”

    Furthermore, Baburam Aryal of the Internet Governance Institute told local media, "Today it is TikTok, tomorrow it could be other media outlets. There is a danger that all media will be muzzled. This is how authoritarianism begins."

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

TikTok's Soaring Popularity in Nepal

Usage of TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, spiked in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching about 2.2 million active users in the region.

A 2022 survey conducted by Sharecast Initiative, a not-for-profit distributing company that focuses on audience data and digital media platforms, showed that 56 percent of the surveyed Nepalese people who were on the internet said that they used TikTok.

Speaking to The Quint, Sharecast Initative CEO Madhu Acharya explained the reason behind Tiktok's meteoric rise in Nepal.

"TikTok’s algorithm is tweaked in such a manner that makes it highly addictive, and that is the reason for its rapid spread in Nepal,” Acharya said. And it did not take long for Nepalese users to become content creators on the app.

"A specific feature on the app (the TikTok Live feature) had become an entrepreneurial goldmine for the Nepalese people. TikTok creators using the feature used to host ‘Follow for Follow’ lives where they would instruct hopefuls wanting to go Live to follow each other," he added.

"The app required creators to have a thousand followers to go live. All these lives would prioritise 'gifters', encouraging viewers to send creators gifts, which are nothing but currencies in the virtual world of TikTok Live. Creators could redeem real money from the gifts. This way it had become a source of livelihood for many," Acharya elaborated.

However, Acharya also pointed out that there have been concerns about "cultural invasion through [TikTok] content, and that the government is worried about it being utilised by those opposed to the secular and republican constitution of the country.”
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Was the TikTok Ban in Nepal Political?

"A large section of society has criticised the app for encouraging a tendency of hate speech," the Nepal government reportedly claimed while making the decision to ban TikTok.

In the past four years, 1,647 cases of cybercrime have been reported on the video-sharing app in the country, the Kathmandu Post reported.

Recently, controversial local businessman Durga Prasai launched a political campaign on TikTok, calling for the reinstatement of a Hindu monarchy in Nepal. He further urged over 1,00,000 people to join a rally in Kathmandu on 21 November.

On the other hand, Prasai has also taken on significant debt after he reportedly borrowed loans to set up a hospital in eastern Nepal. As part of his campaign, Prasai has demanded that loans of up to Rs 2 million be waived off. But many in Nepal see his anti-establishment, political stance as a way of furthering his self-interests.

"And the government does not want to give him or people like him the platform to do that. TikTok was giving that platform to him," said Sharecast's Acharya.

He also added that over the past few months, there have been incidents of communal violence erupting in the country (specifically in Nepalgunj, Janakpur) after certain social media posts went viral.

"Given the reach TikTok has in Nepal, a small communal flare-up can also turn really big, which may also have guided the government to come to the decision [of banning the app]," Acharya reasoned.

Fake News Dogs TikTok in Nepal

Deepak Adhikari, the editor of fact-checking website Nepal Check, told The Quint that he has been scanning TikTok for the past three years and has found more fake news than right information there.

Specifically, he added, there is more misinformation than disinformation.

"There have been verbal attacks on TikTok between Muslims, Hindus, and some indigenous communities specifically, over the slaughter of cows," explained Acharya.

For instance, in August this year, a purported video showing people consuming beef in Nepal's Dharan triggered a row on social media. A few days later, a prohibitory order was imposed in Dharan after Hindu groups planned a protest against the cow slaughter.

Various Hindu groups were scheduled to organise a rally against cow slaughter on 26 August. People from several districts gathered in Itahari, a city in eastern Nepal, and proceeded towards Dharan. However, the police stopped them as there were concerns about potential communal clashes.

On 26 August, visuals purportedly showing hundreds of people bearing Hindu religious flags and parading through the streets went viral on social media platforms, including TikTok, with the claim that it showed a massive rally in Dharan.

However, Adhikari's fact-checking team found that the visuals were from a religious procession in Birgunj, a city in southern Nepal, from two months ago.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Regulation and Not Ban Is the Solution'

Opposition leaders and activists have strongly criticised the TikTok ban in Nepal.

Nepal Congress general secretary Gagan Thapa questioned the government’s decision to ban the app and pushed for restrictions to be imposed instead.

“The government’s decision should be rectified as it violates freedom of expression and individual freedom,” Thapa said on X.

He also told local media channels that "regulation is necessary to discourage those who abuse social media, but shutting down social media in the name of regulation is completely wrong."

"For Nepalese people, TikTok represents freedom of expression cutting across caste and religious lines. Banning it is to curtain freedom of speech. How will the government be held accountable if there is no criticism of it?" Bipin Adhikari, an expert in constitutional law, told The Quint.

"If you have a boil on your neck, you don’t chop off your neck. Identify those who are misusing the platform. But shutting down TikTok is undemocratic," Bishwa Prakash Sharma, who is with a Nepal Congress faction that's opposed to party president Sher Bahadur Deuba, wrote on X.

Additionally, Freedom Forum founder Taranath Dahal told The New York Times that the Nepalese government’s process for banning the platform "lacked transparency and raised concerns that the country is also heading toward building a controlled society.”

Dahal pointed out that the government issued new directives for social media platforms only last week, giving the tech firms just three months to comply.

He said that the decision to “abruptly” shut down one platform that was not significantly different than the others went against Nepal’s “image of a liberal democracy.”

Furthermore, Baburam Aryal of the Internet Governance Institute told local media, "Today it is TikTok, tomorrow it could be other media outlets. There is a danger that all media will be muzzled. This is how authoritarianism begins."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More
×
×