Iraqi minister proposes banning TikTok for harming country's 'social fabric'

Social media app's short-form videos have a massive following in the country

There were 31.95 million users in TikTok in Iraq as of last month - a majority of Iraq's 44.5 million population. Sinan Mahmoud / The National
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Plans by the Iraqi government to ban the social media app TikTok have sparked nationwide controversy.

Minister of Communications Hiyam Al Yasiri announced the plans at a press conference in Baghdad on Monday.

She said TikTok had contributed to “the dismantling of the Iraqi social fabric”.

“I submitted the request to the Council of Ministers to block TikTok and I hope it will be discussed soonest,” Ms Al Yasiri told reporters.

She said TikTok has no “scientific or educational benefits and is merely an entertainment application” and blocking it “will not affect any institution or the education”.

It is unclear whether the request will be accepted or rejected by the Cabinet or when it will start deliberations.

TikTok's short-form videos, including viral dances, have won a massive following worldwide, including in Iraq. It is one of the most popular apps in the country with users across the social spectrum.

According to the global social media-focused creative agency, We Are Social, there were 31.95 million users in TikTok in Iraq as of last month – a majority of Iraq's 44.5 million population.

However, some of Iraq's more conservative religious elements have accused the platform of undermining societal norms and raised concerns over its impact on young people.

Ms Al Yasiri made her comments days after the Supreme Federal Court ruled that authorities should block websites and pages on social media platforms that “publish pornographic and indecent materials as well as those offending religions, beliefs and individuals in the country”.

Divided response

Monday's announcement has divided Iraqis.

“I applaud such a move,” a mother of four identified only Um Ali told The National, adding: “I don’t like it and don’t see it as useful. Its harm is more than its benefit and it threatens our way of life.

“It is very harmful, mainly to kids, bringing them things that are not useful, and sometimes they encounter very bad things.”

Others, such as college professor Mahdi Salih, oppose the ban.

“The move aims at curbing the voices that condemn the corruption of the political elite and the crimes of [Iran-backed] militias,” Mr Salih wrote on X.

Lawyer Naktal Al Kaabi, who has 96,000 followers on TikTok, described the move as “autocratic” and called on the Mr Al Yasiri to reconsider it.

“This request is not well thought out,” Mr Al Kaabi said in a video on TikTok. “We are a democratic country and this affects the freedom of expression,” he added.

“If the TikTok is blocked, the users will go to Facebook and Instagram and other apps,” he said, adding that the platform can generate revenue not only for ordinary users but also the government.

“We hope to reconsider this request, withdraw it and instead organise the work on social media platforms and to raise awareness among the people and not through autocratic measures,” he added.

TikToker Muntadhar Hashim said VPNs that allow users to circumvent the ban will be the solution.

“Do you think that when you block TikTok inside Iraq, we will not be able to open it? We can install VPN and activate it,” he said in a video.

TikTok bans

Several countries already have either full or partial TikTok bans, linked to the platform's Chinese ownership.

In 2020, India implemented a nationwide ban on TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps for being “prejudicial to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The ban came followed deadly border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops.

In the US, the House of Representatives passed a bill this month that could lead to TikTok being banned. Critics say the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, presents a national security risk to the US and accused TikTok of enabling the transfer of data to the Chinese government.

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Updated: March 26, 2024, 7:49 PM