Tik-Tok’s Time Out? Not Really!
We all want to keep up with the changing times. We strive relentlessly each day keeping ourselves updated with the latest trend and upcoming technology. Just like all trends, Tik-Tok, formerly Musical-ly a 15-seconds video app which allows one to dance or lip-sync to any music or popular audio, also took India by storm. It was indeed, the next big thing!
It is the most downloaded app on the Google Play Store and has more than a billion users worldwide. The Chinese parent company, Bytedance secured a valuation of 75 billion dollars in 2018, making it the world’s most valuable start-up. The fastest growing app in the world hit India like a tsunami and from citizens to celebrities; everyone was shaken by the tremor.
But looks like “winter is here” for the 300 million users of the app in India. This was after the app came under the radar for allegedly allowing “pornographic” or “sleazy” content to propagate, especially among children. In several countries, the app has come under fire for propagating child-pornographic content amongst various pedophiles groups.
Innumerable Videos And Irrevocable Mishaps
On top of the numerous theories which were making the rounds concerning the misuse of the app, it all went down when a few cases of deaths and suicides got attached to it in India. In October of 2018, a 24-year old Chennai boy committed suicide after being harassed for posting videos of him dressed as a woman. Then in February this year, three boys tripling on a bike in Thanjavur of Tamil Nadu rammed into a truck while making a Tik-Tok video. One of them died while the other two were severely injured. After the incident, the state IT minister compared the app with Blue Whale alleging that it was creating a law and order issue in the state. The Pattali Makkal Katchi(PMK) party in Tamil Nadu said that the app was promoting sexually perverse content among children and threatening their culture. In April 2019, a 19-year old Delhi boy was shot dead while posing for a Tik-Tok video.
After so many things went down for the app, on the 1st April 2019; advocate and social activist Muthu Kumar filed a plea in the Madras High Court seeking its ban. The ban was demanded by the Madras High Court to the center on the 3rd of April. Following the order, on the 18th of April Tik-Tok was removed from App Store and Play Store and downloading the so-called menace of an app was banned in India.
Ban On Further Downloads Lifted! What Now?
Now, on the 24th April 2019; the Supreme Court lifted the ban on further downloads. This came after the top Court ordered the Madras High Court to pass an interim order by 24th April, failing which, the ban would stay vacated. And the ban stayed vacated anyway!
Bytedance claims that they have appointed a Chief Nodal officer based out of India to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies and they also claimed to have pulled down 6 million videos for not complying with its community guidelines. During the court procedure, it was made clear that offending content would be removed and no pornographic content will be uploaded failing which will result in contempt of court proceedings.
Ban Or Balance?
What can be done now is arrive at a balance where the misuse of the portal is prevented and at the same time the users’ rights are protected. The Company along with the Indian Government must come up with inbuilt algorithms which handle explicit or objectionable content. An independent regulator or an Intermediary could be set up to continuously monitor the platform and filter out provocative content and also take strict action against the offenders.
India would be the second country after Indonesia to order a ban on the app after which the ban was lifted. In July of 2018, Tik-Tok was banned in Indonesia for propagating “negative content” but the ban was soon overturned. Would the lifting of the ban suffice? Or should we address the elephant in the room and come up with a way to deal with the objectionable content so that the rights of the users are respected, and at the same time, the platform is monitored to ensure that it isn’t misused?
India’s Love For Banning And Why It Never Makes Sense
We have seen it a lot of times. Banning or prohibition of anything unapproved by the Government has a massive fan following in India. Each time they find something inappropriate, unholy or “unsanskari”, they ban it. Be it cyberporn, PubG or Tik-Tok, if people here want to show dissent, they appeal for a ban. Because you know, it’s that convenient!
As the human race has evolved, we have always seen both the friendly and the disruptive side of every technology ever invented. When drugs and pharmaceutical companies first started functioning, people around the world lived longer, they were immunized to many bacteria and viruses and many fatal diseases were eliminated. But we have also seen how over time, the human body develops resistance to low power and less harmful drugs and the body starts demanding next-generation drugs which are more potent comes with numerous side-effects. So, now we are at the stage where drugs have become indispensable and it’s no longer a one-time need. When PVC(Poly-Vinyl Chloride) or Plastic came out, all our household needs were met. But we all know its non-biodegradable and it is filling up the ocean floors and choking marine organisms.
Similarly, when the Television came out, children started spending their time indoors rather than playing outside or going out exploring with friends, resulting in booming obesity levels among children. Not just children, but families spent hours staring into the screen yielding less productivity. Findings show that too much of TV can affect critical thinking to a detrimental level and change personalities among people. People grew so annoyed with TV binge-watchers that a slang started developing for TV among popular vocabulary; the idiot box.
Then came the Internet and now terrorist groups are propagating Jihad on the web. They engage millions of people around the world! Even ISIS has an official channel, “Amaq” where it “claims responsibility for terrorist activities” and makes announcements for its audience. And let’s not even mention the dark web which deals in drugs, weapons, counterfeit money and what not. The human race didn’t know road accidents until vehicles were invented and it increased in numbers dramatically after the advent of motor vehicles. Same goes for chemical factories, fertilizers and pesticides, Artificial Intelligence and so on. You get the idea!
Let’s Address The Elephant In The Room!
Well! For many, a particular invention could be immensely helpful but we cannot ignore that percentage of the population who would use the technology in wrongdoings. When it comes to a Pub-G or a Tik-Tok, its users are only practicing their fundamental right of expression. By banning its usage, the government is only increasing curiosity among the people who will be downloading the app more and more. Banning doesn’t work in today’s scenario. So many alternatives are available online! There has been news recently in an API news website that downloads in Tik-Tok have increased by 10-15 times since the ban. By banning a website in India, one actually increases its popularity or usage. Few youtubers even went on to make videos on how to install the app after the ban.
These issues are recurring in India. Targeted and proportionate response to these issues which addresses the harm would prove more appealing to all parties rather than resorting to a ban. After all, we must protect the vulnerable as well as the rights of the citizens who constructively use the technology for their own benefit. And be it Tik-Tok or Pub-G or any other such technological breakthrough in the future, India must refrain from another ban and approach the problem in a more holistic, sensible and workable way instead.