Kyrgyzstan to hit TikTok with access curbs “to protect kids’ mental health”

Kyrgyzstan to hit TikTok with access curbs “to protect kids’ mental health”
Kyrgyz national security officials complain that TikTok “lacks a systematic and principled approach to content censorship”. / social media, cc
By bne IntelliNews April 17, 2024

Kyrgyzstan is to restrict access to the social media favourite TikTok, citing a need to protect children’s mental development and health.

The move was on April 17 confirmed by the country’s digital development ministry.

With Kyrgyzstan’s authoritarian populist Japarov administration under fire for aping Russia-style repressive laws in an anti-democratic crackdown on civil society and independent media and jailing opposition politicians, the decision to go after TikTok will invite suspicions that ruling officials are determined to extend even more control over society. Last August, independent Kyrgyz media outlet Kloop, battling to overcome officials’ efforts to close it down, reported a Bishkek prosecutor as telling a court that its reporting “has a negative emotional-psychological effect on society… generating fear, anxiety, despair, and panic among a huge number of people...”

Earlier this week, billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations announced that it is closing its Kyrgyzstan branch "following the passing of a new law which imposes restrictive, broad, and ill-defined regulations on the activities of internationally funded local organizations".

The clampdown on Chinese global success story TikTok, known for its short-form videos, has been at least a year in the making.

All internet service providers in Kyrgyzstan have been sent a letter from a division of the digital development ministry, the Service for Regulation and Supervision in the Communications Industry, asking them to implement TikTok access restrictions.

The ministry said that the measures were going into effect following the State Committee for National Security’s (SCNS’) determination that TikTok in Kyrgyzstan “lacks a systematic and principled approach to content censorship”, particularly in the children’s information space.

"The reason for the decision [to bring in the restrictions] was TikTok's failure to comply with the ‘Law on measures to prevent harm to children's health, their physical, intellectual, mental, spiritual and moral development.’ The law defines the types of information that harm the health and development of children," it added.

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan in August last year announced they were looking at a possible need to block TikTok after the culture ministry requested the digital development ministry take such action.

“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 culture ministry said last August. “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.”

TikTok was subsequently allowed to continue operating despite the expressed concerns following consultations with culture ministry officials.