Iraq's Ministry of Communications calls for ban on TikTok, citing concerns over social unity

Iraq's Ministry of Communications calls for ban on TikTok, citing concerns over social unity
Iraq's communications minister emphasised the need for responsible TikTok regulation despite its popular and widespread use.
4 min read
28 March, 2024
Citing concerns about the impact of TikTok on Iraqi society, al-Yasiri emphasised that the application has contributed to the erosion of the country's social unity. [Getty]

In a proactive move aimed at safeguarding societal values, the Iraqi Ministry of Communications has formally requested the government to take action against the TikTok social media platform.

Iraq's Minister of Communications, Hayam al-Yasiri, announced this pivotal step during a press conference held on Monday in Baghdad.

Citing concerns about TikTok's impact on Iraqi society, al-Yasiri emphasised that the application has contributed to "the erosion of the country's social unity". She stated that the Ministry of Communications has submitted a formal request to the Council of Ministers to block TikTok, highlighting its lack of educational value and its role primarily as an entertainment platform.

Importantly, al-Yasiri clarified that the decision to block TikTok rests with the government, specifically the Council of Representatives or the Council of Ministers. She pointed out that similar actions have been taken by several countries, including the United States and Canada, underscoring the global recognition of the challenges posed by the platform.

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This call for action comes in the wake of a recent decision by the Supreme Federal Court in Iraq concerning the regulation of offensive online content. TikTok, known for hosting content creators who have faced legal repercussions, falls within the scope of the court's directive, aligning with the ongoing efforts of Iraqi authorities to address derogatory content on social media platforms.

While acknowledging TikTok's popularity among Iraqi internet users, with an estimated 32 million users out of a total of over 36 million internet users in the country, al-Yasiri emphasized the need for responsible regulation. She reiterated her commitment to upholding Iraqi societal values and protecting its citizens from harmful influences.

In response to activists' concerns about potential censorship, al-Yasiri affirmed the government's commitment to freedom of expression. 

Al-Yasiri also stated they will request financial and legislative support from the Council of Ministers and Parliament to enhance the ministry's capabilities beyond its jurisdiction. She highlighted the ministry's efforts to block pornographic websites, noting a significant decrease in visits from over half a billion to 89 million. The minister emphasized the need for advanced examination devices to improve blocking efficiency.

Kurdish journalist Awder Omar told The New Arab that he is against banning the application because it is like other social media platforms that can be used for good or bad.

Meanwhile, he said he had documented several social issues, including divorce and bankruptcy, as the result of using TikTok unproperly. He also indicated that others have invested in the platform for commercial advertising and even calling people for the Islamic religion.  

"I am against the idea of banning the application, but the Iraqi authorities can censor inappropriate content," Omar added. 

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As discussions continue on the appropriate course of action regarding TikTok, the Iraqi Ministry of Communications remains steadfast in promoting a safe and responsible online environment for all citizens.

Iraqi activist Ziad Hameed stated, "The TikTok application influences the behaviour of children and teenagers, especially since it has created celebrities whose actions are unacceptable, sometimes using inappropriate vocabulary. Therefore, it needs regulation, but the idea of banning it is illogical because it does not contain any pornographic or terrorist content."

Hameed added in an interview with Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, TNA's Arabic sister website, "The Iraqi authorities disclaim responsibility for holding accountable some affiliated with parties and armed factions who issue sectarian statements and declare loyalty to foreign entities, but they focus on what is known as derogatory content produced by unemployed youth engaging in profitable activities through TikTok," pointing out that "It is possible to hold the offenders accountable without shutting down or blocking the application."

This move signals a proactive approach by Iraqi authorities to addressing emerging challenges in the digital age and ensuring that online platforms align with the country's cultural values and societal norms.

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On 25 September 2023, Iraqi blogger Noor Alsaffar, also known as Noor BM, was tragically shot and killed by an unidentified assailant in Baghdad's al-Mansur district. With a sizable following of over 370,000 on Instagram and TikTok, Noor challenged societal norms by sharing videos of himself dressed in women's attire, accompanied by dance performances.

In February 2023, two Iraqis were sentenced to prison for sharing "indecent" social media content following the formation of a committee by the interior ministry to monitor online content against Iraqi societal values. YouTuber Hassan Sajamah received a two-year prison term, while TikTok user Om Fahad was sentenced to six months by the misdemeanour court, according to Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council.