TikTok has been blamed for a lot of things during its rise to the top. One of the greatest on-going grievances people raise is that it pollutes minds and encourages toxic behaviour.
Created in 2016 by a Chinese company, TikTok steadily gained popularity over the years to the point that it is now expected – in 2021 – to cross the 1 billion mark in terms of number of users. Its users mostly consist of young people considered a part of Generation Z: aged 18 to 24. Moreover, the app’s influence is not confined to China and South Asia but in fact TikTok has users worldwide.
This is one reason why its proliferation and popularity is concerning. In late June, India banned TikTok as well as 58 other Chinese-made apps under the guise of protecting data and enhancing security. Just a month afterwards, Pakistan’s telecommunications authority the PTA, ended up banning a Chinese app called Bigo on grounds of it promoting vulgarity. In the same tweet, the PTA also claimed it had issued warnings to TikTok owners to tamp down on obscenity within its online community – threatening a ban if action was not taken.
A lot of Pakistanis believe TikTok is out of control. And they have good reason to think so. There have been reports of fatal accidents and even a rape case involving those who use the app. A 17 year old allegedly shot himself by accident while filming a short clip on TikTok using his father’s firearm. A young girl was raped by three men whom she met on this app. Concerned parties have attacked TikTok, claiming it promotes pornography, violence, and bullying.
But there is another side to the story: a brighter side that makes it difficult to say who is wrong and who is right.
Romaisa Khan, a young TikTok star in Pakistan, has said that the app has been hugely beneficial while talking to Al Jazeera. According to her, the platform has helped her break into a modelling and entertainment industry that is nearly impossible to enter. Because of the freedom, exposure, and autonomy TikTok offers, Romaisa now receives offers from multinational brands.
TikTok can be poisonous and dangerous. But it can also bring people together in a way that has never been done before. If regulated and monitored, TikTok can potentially provide opportunities where there are none – and be an empowering force for young Pakistanis.