TikTok finds itself amid yet another controversy in India. As the rest of the world battles a pandemic and dying economy, one of the top trends on Twitter in India is #bantiktok.
The hate against the Chinese short video app surfaced after a video promoting acid attack went viral. The short clip was created by TikTok influencer Faizal Siddiqui (who has more than 13 million followers on the platform), and saw him lip-syncing to the sentence, "Did the man you left me for finally abandon you?" Right after that, he splashed a glass of liquid on to a woman’s face, resulting in false scars, courtesy TikTok filters.
While the TikToker posted an explanation saying the video did not promote violence, Tejinder Bagga, a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, shared it with the National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Rekha Sharma on March 18. Sharma immediately took up the issue with both Tiktok India and the Maharashtra police. The video was criticised by activist and acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal as well. Within a day, the user’s TikTok account was suspended citing multiple community guideline violations.
Soon after this though, several disturbing videos glorifying rape and abuse started surfacing on the app, which led to Sharma demanding that the app be banned entirely as it “not only has objectionable videos but also pushes youngsters towards unproductivity”.
This incident has now accelerated public hate against the app and netizens are leaving poor reviews and ratings for the app on Google Play, causing the ratings to fall to 1.3 stars, an all-time low. Another recent event added on to the hate, which involved prominent Indian YouTuber Carry Minati, who roasted TikTok users in his controversial “YouTube vs TikTok” video and got flagged for using queerphobic language and classist digs. The video ended up becoming the most-watched video by an Indian YouTuber, and was promptly taken down by YouTube for violating community guidelines. But it led to Minati sympathisers joining the call to ban TikTok as part of "#justiceforcarry” retaliation.
But this is not the first time TikTok has found itself in trouble in India. Last year in April, the Madras High Court put an interim ban on the app in response to petitions that accused it of encouraging pornographic content and exposing children to predators. The ban eventually lifted and the app came back with stricter guidelines. But the hate, it seems, has continued. During the pandemic, too, the app received hate for its Chinese origins. In April, a plea went up to the Telangana High Court, which sought to ban TikTok on the grounds that it contains videos encouraging people to not follow precautions about coronavirus.
The platform, which was downloaded 467 million times in India last year, has now become even more popular under the lockdown. However, that hasn't stopped users and critics from flagging sexist and misogynistic content, such as trends where guys pretend to be abusive and promote violence towards women. In India, this was seen in a TikTok video created by Bollywood actor Kartik Aaryan, which depicted him pulling a girl’s hair and throwing her off the balcony for apparently cooking a bad roti. He deleted the video after backlash.
But is a ban truly the answer? In a country where misogyny runs deep and sexism is a popular trope for entertainment, banning the app doesn’t solve underlying problems. While TikTok has to work towards making its policies against abusive and disturbing content stricter, the fact remains that the app here isn’t solely to blame. Additionally, most of the demands to “cancel” the app—from the likes of the fans of creators like Carry Minati and Lakshay Chaudhary—come from very classist notions, which has less to do with sexism in the content and more to do with the fact that they find the content “cringy”.
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