It’s strange when there seems to be consensus on a ban. As candidate after candidate flouts the model code of conduct in a closely-contested poll, the Supreme Court will instead hear TikTok’s plea against the ban on Monday, April 22. This after the Madras High Court asked for the Centre to ban the application and the media to not carry any content created on the platform on April 3.
There. This writer has taken a dig at TikTok too. It’s not that difficult with a name like TikTok in the first place. It is also to be noted that TikTok is no underdog is any scenario. Owned by ByteDance, a seven-year-old Chinese Tech venture which was valued at $78 billion in November last year, the application had 88.6 million downloads from India during the first quarter of this year.
TikTok is a video-creation platform where users post content which ranges between 10 seconds and a minute with its videos going viral and creating a sub-culture of its own with celebrities and the works.
The numbers tell a story. Take Facebook, for example. According to Sensor Tower’s data, close to 700 million users downloaded Facebook on Android in Q4 2018, while close to 140 million downloads were registered on Apple’s IOS. Statista says that in Q2 2018, the Android to IOS ratio was at 88 to 11.9, across the world. Data from India says 90% of India is on Android while only 2.8% is on IOS. The data reinforces a simple point: expensive Apple products have lesser downloads because people don’t buy them as much, even more so in India.
Our ‘underdog’ thrives on predominantly Chinese-made Android platforms. Data says that 99% of TikTok’s downloads are on Google’s Playstore, far outstripping its IOS numbers. There is an argument to be made that a certain population is excluding the rest. “I don’t want to impute motives but having said that, there is a thing of paternalism here in a sense that ‘we know better’,” Amit Doshi, founder of IVM Podcasts, tells Outlook.
TikTok was banned after the Tamil Nadu IT Minister M Manikandan said it is “degrading culture and encouraging pornography”. Doshi says that while the problems cited for banning the application exist on most social media platforms, TikTok has been singled out.
“I make no excuses for child pornography but that is a different topic. The same problem occurs on different platforms like YouTube and Facebook, Twitter, anything. The reason given for the ban doesn’t make sense to me because everything done on TikTok can be done on YouTube, FB and Twitter. Those however are mediums primarily consumed by a certain educated upper class. TikTok is a medium where the primary user is a member of the underclass in India. ‘People like us’ look at TikTok with a degree of voyeurism, it is not ‘our medium’ the way Twitter and Facebook are. I feel it’s sad that we are banning these mediums when such behaviour exists on most platforms,” he says.
There’s a way to quantify what Doshi calls paternalism too. A recent IANS piece reported that news application InShorts surveyed 30,000 folks in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities with 80% in favour of banning the application. Consensus seems to be built from the top. Why not ask what Tier-3 thinks, or even large swathes of the country which are not ‘tiered’.
Content on TikTok has also been a convenient way to take a dig at the platform itself. A stream of memes and videos flooded other social networks, seemingly suggesting that the ban was justified because of the stuff Indians were up to on the platform.
In a statement, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) called for an ‘alternative to bans’ saying that “the ban is a disproportionate reaction to the need to afford protection to children on the internet. Not only does it go against the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), it also violates the principle laid down by the Shreya Singhal case that protects intermediaries from liability and requires individualised content take downs pursuant to court and executive orders.”
The ‘disproportionate reaction’ the IFF mentions can cause a slippery slope. Mobile-gaming platform PUBG has been in the cross-hairs recently. However, the likes of Facebook and Twitter will not be affected, especially since our chowkidars get to protect us there.