TikTok is a short video sharing application
Why do youngsters like using it?
Why has India implemented a ban on the platform?
Dubai: If you haven’t used the application yourself, chances are you have come across one of its posts shared on another social media platform.
Fast paced lip-syncing or comedy videos sound familiar? It’s most likely that they were created using the app TikTok. And it’s just been banned in India. As it is still available in appstores for the UAE, Gulf News decided to investigate as to why it is raising concerns.
What is it?
TikTok is a social media application owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet technology company that allows users to share short videos. Like most other online platforms, the application allows users to gain followers, receive likes, and get their video featured on the app to get even more exposure and increase their popularity.
According to Brandsynario, a website focusing on brand marketing activity, India has the largest database of the platform with 119.3 million users. This is followed by the US with over 39 million users, 28 million in Turkey and 24 million in Russia. The list then includes Mexico, Brazil and Pakistan respectively. Although hugely popular in the UAE, the download numbers were not available.
TikTok is common amongst the youth Image Credit: Reuters
Popular amongst the youth
The video-sharing platform is especially popular amongst teenagers and they use it to express themselves in various ways. The app’s features allow a user to incorporate visual elements as well as audio. Young people are using it to create videos involving singing, lip-syncing, re-enacting movie scenes, dancing and comedy.
The platform has a large community of Bollywood fans. Mostly hailing from India and a smaller group from Pakistan, these movie lovers use it to experience Indian cinema first-hand by enacting it.
As the world goes through digitalisation, people are increasingly involved in the content creation process whereas formerly most of the public was considered as passive recipients of information. Many credit social media platforms for this change.
TikTok is one of the platforms that is allowing users, especially youngsters, to produce and share content without any formal assistance.
The nature of the application that is based on mostly visuals rather than written posts, it even allows those who might be illiterate to use it with ease. This feature could be credited for the app’s popularity in remote areas. But this raises concerns.
TikTok allows users to post videos Image Credit: Reuters
With such reach and minimal posting regulation, issues surrounding sensitive content arise.
The age limits regarding who is allowed to make an account on the platform as well as graphic content are some of the concerns surrounding TikTok.
On their official website, community guidelines have been stated. These include content of sexual nature, involving violence, anything graphic and posts that might be considered as cyberbullying. “If you wouldn’t show this content to your parents or children, please don’t post it here” is what they suggest.
However, users and parents are concerned about the implementation of such guidelines and regulations in place to filter and delete such content, if posted.
The platform has been banned in India Image Credit: AFP
38-year-old Dubai resident Azhad Ali has never used TikTok himself. However, his wife is an avid user and he can see its influence on his children, including his four-year-old daughter.
“The other day we just noticed her holding up her palm, as if it was a phone, and move her finger over it as if swiping through the posts. Then she started acting to a music she had heard on TikTok, so it is definitely something that subliminally is getting into their minds,” the marketing professional told Gulf News.
“If my wife posts something today, they might probably ask her: ‘How many likes did you get?’ So, they definitely know how TikTok works,” he added.
Would he allow his nine-year-old son to use TikTok if he had a smartphone? Yes and no, says Ali.
“The trend is not that you restrict access or have a cut-throat approach to children and technology. Our parents were perhaps not okay with children having phones, but parents today have accepted it as something necessary. What is important is to supervise your children’s use and ensure they are safe,” he said.
18-year-old Sharjah-based student Syed Shayaan Raza Rizvi played around with the app but did not find it suitable.
“My cousins and I were up late one night and thought it would be a fun thing to try out. We made a few funny videos but I only used it a couple of times after that and deleted it later. It does not have a very good reputation among my group of friends. Honestly, the only reason I know of TikTok is because of memes and because of jokes going around making fun of people who use it,” he said.
The reason the app is so popular, according to Rizvi, is because it appealed to people’s inner performer.
“Social media used to be about connecting with friends and family in different parts of the world. Now, it’s all about entertainment and TikTok is an entertainment platform,” he added.
Social media used to be about connecting with friends and family in different parts of the world. Now, it’s all about entertainment and TikTok is an entertainment platform,
– Syed Shayaan Raza Rizvi
As for security concerns, Rizvi said that did not play a role in his decision to stop using the app.
His mother, Tayeba Hussain, said that she too had given the app a try but did not find the user interface sophisticated.
“It seemed very crudely made. Things were just popping up without any sense. Arabic videos were popping up, perhaps because I live in the UAE. But there were no proper preference selection options and no questions about what my privacy preferences are,” she said.
“I would not really recommend any children to be using it and there were not many controls on it. In fact, when I spoke to the young people in my family about it, all they told me is that it was not a suitable app. I guess they know more about the kind of content than parents,” she added.
I would not really recommend any children to be using it and there were not many controls on it
– Tayeba Hussain
Indian app lovers
Gulf News also spoke with users in India who enjoyed using the app. There was a mixed reaction to the idea of TikTok being banned, with many users who use the app supporting the ban, while many stood in staunch opposition, arguing that this practice infringed on free speech.
Those against the ban argued that the government was regulating too much of the internet’s content, much to the dismay of users who were once free to roam the various parts of the internet as the cowboys did in the Wild West.
“I mainly use TikTok for entertainment. It actually offers relief from academic stress, and I can enact my favourite movie dialogues, songs and similar activities. I won’t be affected much by the ban because I can express my skills in some other platforms too. Like taking my own videos and editing it. TikTok just made it more easy to edit videos and upload them. Now it’s going to be a bit difficult to do that,” Munna R S, a student from Christ University, Bangalore, who is a frequent user of the app, said.
I won’t be affected much by the ban because I can express my skills in some other platforms too
– Munna R S
Another university student from Bangalore, Shweta Valimbe, argued that the government should not ban entire apps if some people use it for nefarious purposes, and instead, should sack the creators of sexualised content on the platform.
“I solely use TikTok for recreational purposes. I like the idea of lip-syncing to songs and posting it online, since it’s fun and easy to access,” she said.
I solely use TikTok for recreational purposes. I like the idea of lip-syncing to songs and posting it online, since it’s fun and easy to access
– Shweta Valimbe
Another student, 18-year-old Vaighna Raj felt sad when the app was banned but also felt some of the content on it was atrocious.
“I do wish more creative apps are available in the future, which are only meant for entertainment and that ensure our personal lives are not troubled because of them,” she added.
Her sister, Vaishna Raj said: “TikTok is different because I feel, more than pictures, videos have an everlasting impact. I did feel a sense of sorrow when the ban was implemented, but then I feel this ban is for a social cause and a lot of people have been addicted to this app and a lot of negative things happen. So I feel it was meant for a social cause.”
TikTok is different because I feel, more than pictures, videos have an everlasting impact.
– Vaishna Raj
Why has TikTok vanished from app stores in India?
The Chinese video app is no longer available in Google and Apple app stores in India after a state court prohibited its downloads, a huge setback for its developer Bytedance Technology. A state court in India said some of its content was inappropriate and spread pornography. The move could handicap Bytedance, the world’s most highly valued startup, in one of its most promising markets.
Here is an explainer on what has happened and what it means:
What exactly has happened?
A court in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu asked the federal government on April 3 to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography. The federal government sent a letter requesting Apple and Google to abide by the state court’s order, according to an Indian ministry official. But Bytedance challenged the state court’s ban in Indian Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India. The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected the request to put the ban order on hold, K. Neelamegam, a lawyer arguing against Bytedance in the case, said. The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24.
What has been the follow up action?
Google blocked access to TikTok in its Play store in India to comply with the state court’s directive, a person with direct knowledge said. The app was not available in Apple’s app store on Wednesday. Google said in a statement it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
What has the developer said?
A Bytedance spokeswoman declined to comment on the app store decisions, but provided a statement on the India situation: “The case is still ongoing to date,” the company said.
“We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by over 120 million monthly active users in India.” Bytedance, which creates social and news-reading apps, has most of its users and sales in China. But TikTok has exploded in popularity elsewhere, giving Bytedance more global reach than any other Chinese tech company. Investors have valued the company at $75 (Dh275.4) billion. The startup has made a considerable push in India, where a vast majority of consumers use phones running Google’s Android software.
What were the concerns behind the ban?
Jokes, clips and footage related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the app’s platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music. But there were increasing worries from parents and social media experts about pornographic content on TikTok, which sexual predators could target child users. The app is hugely popular among children. In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene.
What does this mean for consumers? Will the court ruling be effective?
The court ruling only restricts future downloads of the app in India and does not apply to existing users. In addition, market and technical realities will not make the ban very effective on the ground, according to market research firm techARC. Any existing user of TikTok, who has the app installed on the smartphone, can share it with any such seeker through apps like ShareIt. Once the app is shared, the user can install the app and become a new user, said Faisal Kawoosa, chief analyst at techARC. “There is a need to have a holistic approach to get rid of such increasing digital menace, which cannot be solved by technology and/or legal recourse alone,” he said.
How popular is the app in India?
TikTok had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. More than 30 million users installed the app in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year.
What does this mean for the industry?
Salman Waris, a technology lawyer at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said the legal action against Bytedance could set a precedent of Indian courts intervening to regulate content on social media and other digital platforms. The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business.