Holy sites in Nepal ban 'nuisance' TikTok creators from filming videos

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
AUG 13, 2022 LISTEN

Sacred sites in Nepal have started banning the filming of TikTok videos, arguing that internet celebrities are upsetting visitors to the holy spots that rake in millions of euros for the tourism-dependent nation.

Several religious and tourism sites have put up “No TikTok” signs, while some deployed security to keep away the largely adolescent short-video producers.

Several other venues have set up security cameras or even roped in the police in the action against TikTok and Youtube creators that started last year.

“They come in hordes, play same loud music over and over which is unsettling,” said Bhanu Prasad Sarma, a priest at Kathmandu's Boudhanath Stupa, one of Nepal's three largest Buddhist shrines, now out of bounds to TikTokers.

A browse of videos showed young women dancing through some of Nepal's national religious sites, vastly popular among Westerners and visiting Buddhist monks.

A popular street in the capital decked up with umbrellas to draw post-Covid tourists went viral on the Chinese video-sharing platform, prompting city officials to shut it down to prevent traffic gridlocks and public disorder.

Chamomile farmers were forced to harvest early, as hordes of unruly TikTokers trampled their crop of medicinal herbs while posing for videos on the white-flowered fields in eastern Nepal, added Rest of World, an online technology publication.

Several other holy sites, Nepal's most iconic Lumbini religious complex also said enough is enough, adding fuel to a potential showdown with online influencers.

“Making TikTok by playing loud music creates a nuisance for pilgrims from all over the world who come to the birthplace of Gautama Buddha,” Lumbini shrine spokesman Sanuraj Shakya told the online outlet.

“We have banned TikTok-making in and around the sacred garden, where the main temples are located,” he added as South Asian technology experts called for a middle path to try and avoid bad blood.

Soaring popularity

“But the fundamental issue is the lack of a regulatory mechanism as well as third party monitoring,” Faisal Kawoosa, founder of Techarc research and consulting firm, told RFI in India.

“Someone has to umpire the space to decide what's right and what's wrong (and) I think TikTokers are welcome to shoot at public places but they should not be identifying people, “ he added.

A survey this year reported the number of respondents with internet access who use Tik Tok rose from three percent to 55 percent in two years in Nepal.

Ninety-six percent of families own mobile phones and 26 percent of them use the internet in Nepal where over a quarter of its 30 million people have Facebook accounts.

But the survey's most striking feature was Tik Tok's popularity which surged in the impoverished Himalayan nation during Covid lockdowns.

China-based tech giant ByteDance which owns the platform does not release data on what kind of reach it does not have nor does it disclose actions it takes against misinformation or abuse.

Calls for policy

Others argued even though some creators were eking out a living from videos they market online, TikTok was perhaps not ideal to make a work career in Nepal, where the pandemic destroyed two million jobs.

“It is worth giving a thought on Tik Tok's impact on youth who are getting addicted to investing countless hours in browsing largely pointless videos instead of a time which could have been utilised in skill building,” technology professional Abyoudaya Agrawal told RFI.

“This can even contribute to unemployment and increase in crime,” he said of Nepal, where almost five million people struggle with grinding poverty.

“Nepalese policy-makers need to be mindful of how its youth are getting trapped and addicted.” the expert added.

“And this is in addition to the data privacy and security concerns that have led to its ban in countries like India and is facing intense scrutiny in the US.”

On 18 May, model Sushmita Regmi kicked off nationwide calls to reform Nepal's rape laws after she posted on Tiktok an account of her sexual abuse.

“We add to the architecture of nation-building. We are not ragamuffins,” said a TikTok influencer who wished to be anonymous.