Tik Tok controversy: To ban or not to ban?

Anugraha Rao, Alisha Shinde and Debarati Palit Singh
Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Users and content creators of the social media app blame the cringe content for the backlash

TikTok is back in the news since the past few days. A section of social media users and National Commission for Women (NCW) wants TikTok to be banned in India.

Social media users are agitated with the kind of content being created on the platform. After taking objection over Faisal Siddiqui’s content which glorifies acid attack on women, a fresh set of videos were shared on Twitter. One of the videos promotes rape culture, while another is on child abuse.

 

Today (May 19) morning, TikTok said that Siddiqui’s account “has been banned due to multiple community guidelines violations”.

“Keeping people on TikTok safe is a top priority and we make it clear in our terms of service and community guidelines. It clearly outlines what is not acceptable on our platform. As per the policy, we do not allow content that risks safety of others, promotes physical harm or glorifies violence against women. The behaviour in question violates our guidelines and we have taken down content, suspended the account, and are working with law enforcement agencies as appropriate,” said TikTok spokesperson.   

Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, NCW, in a tweet said, “I am of the strong opinion that this @TikTok_IN should be banned totally and will be writting to GOI. It not only has these objectionable videos but also pushing youngsters towards unproductive life where they are living only for few followers and even dying when number decline.”

 

#BanTikTok, #TikTokExposed, #TikTokdown have been trending since morning and even at the time of writing this article social media users have been coming down heavily on the video sharing app.

But what about those who follow the app? Those who binge watch the videos.  TikTok has the highest number of followers in India. According to a report in Influencer Marketing Hub, there are more than 119 million active users in India. TikTok was downloaded 277.6 million times in India in the first 11 months of 2019 alone.

But all this backlash seems to have affected the app and its rating on Google Play Store, which has fallen to 2.0 (on May 19) from 4.6 last week.

 

“For many, TikTok is a platform where people from different cultures and backgrounds can showcase their talent and skill. They do not have to be dependent on anyone. If you see, there are people from villages, small towns and big cities creating content. There’s no partiality,” says Shubhankar Ghosh, a TikTok viewer.

He adds that banning the app isn’t the answer. “Second, if we talk about this TikTok and YouTube war, it is taking this whole thing too far. I agree there is content that is not worth watching or sometimes demean gender, class and people. But this is happening on all other platforms. Watching it totally depends on you. Banning the whole platform is not right, ban the content and the content producer instead. It’s your phone, you should be smart enough to decide what to ban -- by stop watching the content that is in poor taste,” adds Ghosh.

 

“I do use TikTok but I think when it comes to creating logical content, the number of good creators is very less. The scenario is similar on both the platforms; however, seeing the current situation, I am in favour of YouTube. Talking good about your community is great but you need to talk sense,” says Vertika Jaiswal, a TikTok user.

Though, she hasn’t deleted the app yet, she says that she will not hesitate to delete it forever and favour #bantiktok.

Monitoring Cringe Content

Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have a lot ofcringeworthy content. Unfortunately, these platforms have also penetrated through different societal settings--urban and rural. 

Ankit Verma, a data scientist, points out that cringe content picks up pace in a society when a company makes an application and lets it flourish with zero to minimal moderation. “In the past few years we did experience a rise in something called cringe content, and people would re-post, share and comment on it too, however, platforms like Facebook and YouTube did take a sweep at them to some extent, but we do come across it,” he says. 

Verma also points out that cringe content generated on TikTok is not limited to the app alone but follows cross media sources, which means that it can be shared on various media platforms. These cringe videos are not taken down even by other media channels unless reported. “What we understand is that deleting or banning the app is not the solution since these videos were lately even circulated on Twitter, but that does not mean Twitter supports it. This simply comes down to the creators and this needs to be worked out with the guidelines and safety tools provided by the app,” adds Verma. 

 

 

Sam Kamble believes that TikTok is a powerful platform when used correctlyand has truly democratised content creation and unlocked creative aspirations for many who did not have a platform to showcase their talent. “Ofcourse, there is poor and cringe content on the app, but it is also present on other apps, moreover most Bollywood movies are cringeworthy but they still make the big bucks,” says Kamble adding that the platform isn’t the problem, people are.

Cringe content vs real talent 

Aditya Satpute, a content creator on TikTok, says that people aren’t using the platform productively and positively and therefore most content is cringeworthy. “Those who were watching this kind of content, sharing and liking them are now opposing it. Earlier, they were having fun watching the content and that was making it popular. The controversy is not about YouTube vs TikTok but it’s about cringe content vs real talent.”

He adds that those who are working hard aren’t being appreciated and instead cringe content is getting all the attention. “This kind of reaction was bound to happen someday. The responsibility falls on the followers. Lip sync isn’t content, originality is. You can create comedy, motivational content in your original voice. There is an option to make one-minute videos but everyone makes only 15-second videos,” says Satpute, who believes in creating purely original content.   

He says that most Chinese products are gradually going to be banned and so will TikTok but he isn’t worried because companies creating similar apps have started approaching him. “We do not have a clear picture but a couple of companies have started to approach content creators and one of the companies is India-based. Soon more such platforms will be available forcontent creators,” says Satpute.

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