A petition seeking to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok in Kenya sparked a heated debate in parliament on Tuesday, with some lawmakers defending the platform and others calling for its prohibition.
The petition, filed by Bob Ndolo, Executive Officer of the Bridget Connect Consultancy, claimed that TikTok was exposing Kenyan youth to inappropriate content, privacy violations, and mental health issues. He urged the National Assembly to intervene and prohibit the app in the country.
National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula read the petition in parliament, highlighting the petitioner’s concerns about the app’s lack of regulation by the Communications Authority of Kenya, its involvement in several privacy scandals, and its addictive nature.
“The petitioner decries that while it has gained popularity among the youth in Kenya, the content that is being shared on the platform is inappropriate thus promoting violence, explicit sexual content, hate speech, vulgar language, offensive behaviour which is a serious threat to the petitioner avers that in Kenya, the internet application is not regulated by the Communications Authority of Kenya leading to the failure to remove or block content deemed to be inappropriate or offensive,” Wetangula said.
However, the petition met with strong opposition from some MPs who argued that banning TikTok would be counterproductive, unrealistic, and detrimental to the country’s digital economy.
Kimani Ichungwah, MP for Kikuyu Constituency, said that he and many other MPs were on TikTok and there was nothing criminal or evil about it. He said that the app provided entertainment and employment opportunities for many Kenyans, especially those who were able to create content. He suggested that instead of banning the app, the relevant committee should look at ways of regulating its use and content.
“Many of us, including myself are on TikTok, unashamedly and there’s nothing criminal or evil being on TikTok. I’m also on Snapchat and all these apps are my teenage daughters who have downloaded them on my phone and shown me how to use them. As much as I feel what Mr Ndolo says, there could be an element of abuse of all these apps but we cannot, as a House, preside over the outright banning of any app. We cannot fight with technology. What Mr Ndolo probably should have done is to petition the relevant committee to look at ways how to regulate the use of these apps, how you restrict the age groups that will be able to use these apps, how the CAK and ICT authorities will be able to regulate the content that is being uploaded for viewership,” Ichungwah said.
Opiyo Wandayi, MP for Ugunja Constituency, echoed Ichungwah’s sentiments, saying that Kenya could not afford to live in isolation in this digital age. He highlighted that TikTok has emerged as a worldwide sensation with a vast user base. Wandayi emphasized that it is essential for Kenya to embrace connectivity and provide additional opportunities for its youth to display their skills and innovation.
“I’m of the very strong view that in this digital age, we cannot as a country afford to live in isolation. Therefore, it will be foolhardy even to contemplate banning not only TikTok but any other app. Secondly, we are living in difficult times where unemployment levels have reached very high and our youth are looking forward to getting opportunities for employment and these platforms have provided avenues and opportunities for our youth to get employment especially for those who are able to create content. As a country which is responsible we should be looking forward to opening,” Wandayi said.
Nominated MP Irene Mayaka also dismissed the petition as futile, saying that even if TikTok was banned in Kenya, users could still access it through VPNs from other countries. She said that banning any application in Kenya would not solve any problem but rather create more challenges.
“From an IT and audit perspective, I just want to inform the House that even if you ban any application in Kenya, if someone has access to VPN from any other country, they can still access that application. An ultimate ban would not assist anyone,” Mayaka said.
The petition was committed to the Public Petitions Committee for consideration. The committee is required to report its findings to the House and to the petitioner in accordance with Standing Order 227 (2).
In recent times, growing concerns have emerged within the Kenyan online community regarding the presence of explicit content, nudity, and inappropriate language on the popular social media platform. The platform, which boasts an extensive user base, including a significant number of young individuals, has become a focal point for these concerns.
The surge in TikTok’s popularity has undoubtedly contributed to its wide-reaching impact on the younger generation, allowing users to share short videos featuring dance routines, lip-syncing, and other creative expressions. However, these positives have been shadowed by mounting apprehension over the prevalence of explicit content that has managed to find its way onto the platform, often being exposed to users as young as thirteen.
Parents, educators, and policymakers have begun to question the effectiveness of TikTok’s content moderation measures and the extent to which they shield impressionable audiences from inappropriate material. The company’s algorithms, designed to recommend content based on user preferences, have inadvertently facilitated the spread of sexually suggestive and explicit content, leading to concerns about the potential negative impact on the psychological and emotional well-being of young users.