The Nepalese government opted to ban TikTok on 13th November following a Cabinet meeting. The rationale behind this action was “disruption in social harmony.” On 5th November, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued an official release, stating collaborative efforts involving the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, security agencies, and representatives from TikTok. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has claimed that a comprehensive political agreement including all the ruling and opposition parties have supported the ban.
On 9th November, the Cabinet had passed “The Directives on the Operation of Social Networking 2023”, which necessitates social platforms such as Facebook, X, TikTok, and YouTube to either establish physical offices or designate a focal representative within the country in the next three months. This shows the ways of improvement and regulation of such platforms with the involvement of various stakeholders. Yet, the TikTok ban implies a shift in their approach. This action indicates governmental shortcomings in effectively managing and regulating issues within the country.
TikTok saw 233 reports in 2078 and that increased to 721 in 2079 – a 300% increase, which may have justified the government’s focus on the app. However, Instagram had a 700% increase during the same period, and no action to ban Instagram has been introduced. During the fiscal year 2078/79, 4686 cybercrime cases were reported in the Cyber Bureau involving various social media platforms, and in the next fiscal year, the number of cases increased to 9013. In general, the number of reports has increased, but Facebook/Messenger has carried the majority of these reports, as they went from 3956 reports in 2078 to 6782 in 2079 – almost ten times more than TikTok. Interestingly, the number of cases or lawsuits in those years has dropped from 132 to 127 even though the number of reports has seen a massive increase.
These statistics reveal a rapid increase in crime rates, encompassing offenses such as photo mutilation, revenge porn, ransomware attacks, defamation, imposter activities, hacking, unauthorized access, website defacement, and other IT-related financial crimes – of which, the government’s efforts at regulation are not prominently seen and their focus on banning TikTok has yet to receive a sound justification from the data, and instead indicates a potential oversight in addressing issues on other platforms
The Federation of Computer Association Nepal (CAN Federation), in its recent press release, contends that the government’s decision, made without involving stakeholders and relevant bodies, may add more challenges. Ranjit Kumar Podar, President of CAN Federation, mentioned in the press release that with the growth and expansion of information and communication technology, both opportunities and challenges arise naturally. He expressed, the government’s decision to ban the technology itself in the name of problem control questions the government’s decision. He asserted that it is counterproductive to prohibit the platform without attempting to regulate the content.
Tracing the government’s efforts to control such disruptions leads us only to “The Directives on the Operation of Social Networking 2023” issued on November 9, 2023. Imposing a ban on 13th November, 2023 without implementing these directives and other regulatory measures raises questions about the government’s decision itself. Additionally, it has been observed that users are resorting to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), raising serious ethical and legal concerns.
According to Santosh Sigdel, Executive Director of Digital Rights Nepal, “VPNs are legitimate tools providing privacy and security through internet connection encryption. However, the use of free VPNs can lead to potential IT-related issues and cybercrimes, such as hacking, data theft, unauthorized access, cyber fraud and others in the near future. The use of such tools can, in turn, undermine cybersecurity efforts, making it challenging for authorities to track and apprehend those involved in illicit activities.”
The issuance of “The Directives on the Operation of Social Networking 2023” reflects a proactive stance, the subsequent ban on TikTok raises questions about consistency and intention. TikTok is in part famous for the non-mainstream narratives that it fosters which can and has given insight that directly contradicts the narrative pushed by governmental microphones around the world. Internationally, it has provided a platform for alternative thoughts and facts potentially omitted by mainstream media and censored by governmental bodies.