The government in Nepal said on Monday that it was banning the popular social media app TikTok, saying the platform’s refusal to curb hate content was affecting “social harmony.”
TikTok has more than a billion users globally, so the ban by a Himalayan country with a population of about 30 million is unlikely to significantly affect the app, but it is another ominous sign for the Chinese-owned company of broader efforts by governments around the world to restrict its use.
TikTok was among dozens of Chinese apps India banned in 2020, following a military standoff between the two countries in the Himalayas that remains unresolved. The app has also been subjected to increased scrutiny and restrictions in the United States, Europe and Canada over concerns that sensitive data for users is being shared with the Chinese government.
Nepal finds itself pulled between its two giant neighbors, but the concern has been less about Chinese misuse and more about domestic harmony. Officials cited the prevalence of content that they said was stoking religious hate, violence and sexual abuse and has led to clashes offline, forcing curfews and the deployment of the police.
Although the toxic content includes sexism and casteism, a particularly hot issue has been virtual attacks on TikTok between Hindus, Muslims and some Indigenous communities over the slaughter of cows, which is seen as sacred among a large number of Hindus.
“Our social harmony, family structure and family relations are being disturbed by social media, by TikTok,” said Rekha Sharma, Nepal’s minister for communications and information technology, after approval of the ban by the cabinet of ministers.
“The decision to ban TikTok will be effective immediately,” Ms. Sharma said, but telecommunications companies must still put the ban into effect, and it was not clear when users would no longer have access.
TikTok representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Nepali officials said they resorted to the ban after TikTok declined to address concerns about troubling content, even after the government reached out on repeated occasions. It last raised the issue with TikTok representatives nine days ago, to no avail, said Narendra K.C., an adviser to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
He said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the country’s home minister, told the cabinet on Monday that removing individual videos would be technologically difficult for the Nepali authorities, leading him to propose a ban on the app itself.
TikTok’s popularity has particularly jumped in Nepal since the pandemic, reaching about 2.2 million active users.
The app is used by some users to vent anger at the government and politicians, and some journalists and activists expressed worries that the government was trying to curb free speech under the guise of protecting social harmony.
Taranath Dahal, the founder of Freedom Forum, which advocates free speech in Nepal, said the government’s process for banning the platform lacked transparency and raised concerns that the country “is also heading toward building a controlled society.”
Mr. Dahal said the government had introduced a new directive for social media platforms only a few days ago, giving the companies three months to comply. He said the decision to “abruptly” shut down one platform that was not significantly different than the others went against Nepal’s “image of a liberal democracy.”
Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from New Delhi.