We are living in an information society where diffused information plays a significant role in shaping the political, economic, social and a host of other issues that have direct bearing on the life of citizens and nation as a whole. The ceaseless flow of information has enabled the people to pass their own judgment on the burning public issues. It has empowered the ordinary citizens to seek rationality and accountability of political actions. The diverse digital devices contributed to the creation of knowledge-based society. And it is social media that have taken a centre stage in facilitating the swift communication among the people. The social networking sites such as Facebook, X, TikTok and Instagram have proved influential tools to connect people and help share their views and reactions over the social and political matters. Just a literate person can make one's voice heard in the broader social spectrum with the use of social apps.
However, at the same time, the social media have become dangerous medium to proliferate rumours, fake news and disinformation, causing harms to the unsuspecting citizens. When the power of social media is abused to fulfil vested interests, they do not only harm the targeted audience but also the society as a whole. Several studies have shown that social media have spread negativity, prejudice and hate speech. They have polarised society via echo chambers and filter bubbles, and created competing realities through algorithms. Misinformation and disinformation lead to the formation of false public opinion and narratives that hardly reflects the ground reality and condition of the people. A huge amount of data that the social apps collect can be used to manipulate the users' behaviour and spy on the citizens.
But, of late, some social networking sites have been abused to humiliate the political leadership, discredit the federal republican system and disturb the communal unity and harmony in Nepal. As a result, the government clamped a ban on TikTok, a Chinese short form video-sharing app, citing that it has disrupted social harmony, family cohesion and relations. The major political leaders were humiliated and ridiculed in widely circulated TikTok videos and rolls. Not only this, anti-systemic forces are also trying to abuse the popular app to belittle the federal system adopted through the promulgation of the new constitution. The ruling and opposition leaders were in unison in banning the app to check further damage to the society. According to the authorities, over 90 per cent TikTok content has been already blocked. However, they have confronted technical snags to regulate the content posted on TikTok owing to language related factor.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT) has disclosed that currently, about 90 to 95 per cent of TikTok contents in Nepal is made in Nepali. It has become impossible to prevent it from running even through machine learning. It requires a lot of time and money to develop the technology that grasp Nepali language. TikTok is also consuming around 25 to 30 per cent of the total international bandwidth entering Nepal. This factor is also offered to justify the ban. Meanwhile, different organisations have expressed their objection to the ban of social media platform, stating the speed of the information technology and right to expression can't be curtailed. Call for regulating the content instead of banning the app appears sound but one must not underestimate the bigger damage that the said app is causing to the family values, democratic polity and the political system of the nation.