The Himalayan nation of 30 million people is the latest country to restrict the use of TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance was founded by Chinese entrepreneurs. The app has come under increased scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere over concerns about data privacy and that it could be used by Beijing to spy on or influence its millions of users. The app has more than 1 billion users globally, including 150 million in the United States.
Achyuta Nand Mishra, a spokesman for the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the telecom regulator had written to all internet service providers to block TikTok, adding that the app was likely to be cut off within 24 hours.
The app’s website appeared to be inaccessible to users in Nepal on Tuesday morning local time. TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nepal’s government did not specify what sparked the decision, though its cabinet last week had created guidelines attempting to regulate social media platforms.
All platforms are now required to establish a local office in Nepal, the government said Thursday, and users are also barred from sharing or posting content that could spread hatred against any caste, community or religion, and they cannot use fake identification to post.
The details on compliance and penalties were not immediately shared.
The decision to ban TikTok was criticized by civil society groups and some lawmakers.
Santosh Sigdel, a lawyer and founding chair of the nonprofit organization Digital Rights Nepal, said the government did not provide a legitimate reason or data for the decision.
“This decision violates freedom of expression, right to information and commitment of the government to international covenants on civil and political rights that Nepal is party to,” he said.
About 30 civil society groups have urged the government to reverse its decision, Sigdel said, adding that those groups could decide to take legal action.
Gagan Thapa, general secretary of Nepali Congress party, part of the ruling coalition, said that although regulation was necessary to discourage the abuse of social media, shutting down a platform was wrong.
“This shows the government’s intention to curtail freedom of expression of any individual,” Thapa wrote on Facebook.
Similarly, opposition leader Pradeep Gyawali told local news outlet Setopati.com that the government was trying to control social media, rather than regulate it.
Nepal’s neighbor India banned TikTok in 2020 following a deadly border clash with China that resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers. The U.S. government and nearly 40 states have also banned use of the app on government-owned devices; and in May, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed a law banning downloads of the app starting next year, though experts have questioned whether the ban is technically enforceable. TikTok has challenged the ban in court, saying it violates the First Amendment and was not backed by evidence of legitimate national security risks.
Still, despite efforts to restrict its use, the app remains wildly popular among users, with the average American viewer watching TikTok for 80 minutes daily — more than the time spent on Facebook and Instagram combined, The Post previously reported.