Kyrgyzstan moves to ban TikTok over child welfare concerns

Kyrgyzstan moves to ban TikTok over child welfare concerns
TikTok is a danger to children, Kyrgyz officials say. / Focal Foto / Creative Common
By Eurasianet August 31, 2023

Culture officials in Kyrgyzstan have requested that digital censors block access to TikTok over concerns that the video platform is “negatively affecting the mental development and health of children".

In its petition to the Digital Development Ministry, the Culture Ministry said on August 30 that it is worried by the unfettered availability of harmful content and the lack of age restrictions on the app.

“TikTok immerses the user into a virtual world of short clips, and after watching them, teenagers try to mimic certain videos, some of which are life-threatening,” the ministry said. “Children's psyches are still in flux, they are only just being formed. Such content can cause addiction and negatively affect the emotional state of the younger generation.”

The move against TikTok is of a piece with broader trends in Kyrgyzstan, where the government is pursuing ever greater censorship in what it argues is an effort to uphold social and political stability. Earlier this month, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced it was seeking the closure of an independent media outlet on the grounds that its critical coverage of current events is fostering emotional discontent among the public. 

Culture Ministry officials insist the plan to block TikTok is not coming out of the blue.

In remarks to the media, Deputy Culture Minister Chyngyz Esengul said that fully 18 nongovernmental and civil society groups pleaded with the government to block the app. 

Kyrgyzstan is hardly an outlier in its hostility to TikTok, though.

As The New York Times has reported, lawmakers in numerous Western countries, including the United States and Canada, are moving to curb access to the Chinese-owned platform. In most of those instances, however, the formal motivation for slapping bans on TikTok stem from worries that the owner of the app may make user data available to Chinese government agencies.

Similar thinking has underpinned restrictions elsewhere. India banned TikTok outright in June 2020, citing the need to protect the country’s “sovereignty and integrity” and the “security of state, and public order.”

But as far as Kyrgyzstan goes, the government maintains a resolutely pro-China line, so such geopolitical arguments are never articulated by officials. 

On the contrary, successive Kyrgyz government have evinced a relaxed attitude over security services agencies in Beijing amassing personal data about their citizens. In 2019, then-president Sooronbai Jeenbekov oversaw the opening of a police control centre in Bishkek that was to serve, among other things, as the processing centre for a network of Chinese-installed CCTV cameras, many of them fitted with facial recognition technology. 

At the time, human rights groups expressed concern that the Chinese company implementing the project – China National Electronic Import and Export Corporation – would enjoy full access to the data used by the surveillance technology. No explanations have ever been offered about how much data-sharing this arrangement would entail.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.