Malaysia Warns TikTok Over Breaches of Local Laws

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ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Malaysia Warns TikTok Over Breaches of Local Laws

The Chinese-owned short video app has hit a number of recent roadblocks in its bid to expand its Southeast Asian operations.

Malaysia Warns TikTok Over Breaches of Local Laws
Credit: Depositphotos

Yesterday, Malaysia’s government put the social media platform TikTok on notice, claiming that the company had failed to curb defamatory or misleading content in line with government requests.

In a social media message posted after meeting TikTok representatives, Reuters reported Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil as saying that the short video application also had to address issues related to content distribution and advertising.

While the post did not specify exactly what laws TikTok had failed to uphold, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government has announced its intention to curb the spread of social media posts containing the “3R” issues – namely, race, religion, and royalty.

Anwar was appointed after last year’s contested general election, which also brought significant gains for the Islamist party PAS, which won more seats than any other single party. PAS’ “green wave” was marked by its ability to marry its backward-looking conservative vision of Islam with cutting-edge use of social media, particularly TikTok.

In a statement today, TikTok said it is committed to taking proactive measures to address the issues raised by the Malaysian government.

“TikTok respects local laws and regulations and is committed to taking proactive measures to address the issues raised,” a spokesperson for the company told Reuters. The spokesperson added that the firm had set up meetings with Malaysia’s communications regulator next week to demonstrate its commitment.

This friction with the Malaysian government is the latest headwind that TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has faced in Southeast Asia. Last week, the social media platform halted transactions on its platform in Indonesia after the government announced a ban on e-commerce trade on social media. Since its launch in 2021, Tik Tok Shop has managed to capture around 5 percent of the country’s $52 billion e-commerce market, according to data from consultancy Momentum Works.

TikTok also faces challenges in Vietnam, where authorities have this year undertaken a “comprehensive inspection” of the platform for “toxic” content that it fears “poses a threat to the country’s youth, culture and tradition.” On October 6, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications accused TikTok of “failing to effectively block content that violates Vietnamese law” in addition to storing illegal information and content that could “incite violence and pose risks to children.”

All of this creates complications for TikTok’s plan to ramp up its presence in Southeast Asia’s youthful and fast-growing markets, partly to compensate for the increasing pressure that it is facing in major Western markets. In June, the company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew gave a speech in Jakarta in which he announced that the firm is planning to pour “billions of dollars” into Southeast Asia over the next few years, much of it aimed at expanding the firm’s e-commerce presence.

Given its rapid emergence as a key medium of commerce and political communication, TikTok was always going to attract scrutiny from Southeast Asia’s governments – as Facebook’s parent company Meta has also discovered. The question now is how many compromises – to free speech, and its own bottom line – it will need to make in order to accommodate itself to the region’s complex political realities.