This is how Facebook, Twitter and Instagram became this infinite universe made up of explainers, artworks, dank memes and blow-by-blow updates on the ongoing dissent involving a mostly urban, educated demographic. And if you don’t know already, these are also the spaces where the government has come down heavily, reportedly “Chinese-style”, in recent times—from the government being able to take down content to people being prosecuted over their social media posts, to, now, platforms being forced to give out user account information.But things on TikTok have always been a little different in India, and for a reason. After facing heavy scrutiny last year—with the controversial interim ban after activists accused it of encouraging pornography—TikTok has been laying low, quietly working and reworking on its safety and consent features. Simultaneously, incidents of deaths and killings of young TikTokers haven’t exactly made things easy.So while TikTok has been a world far removed from the “woke” clutter of Instagram and Twitter, and with a reputation of delivering largely harmless fluff so far, the recent spate of somewhat political content suggests otherwise.If you look up #caa on TikTok, the related content currently has 43 million views, while #nocaa has 22.4 million views, #no_caa has 3.3 million, #rejectcaa has 5.0 million, and #caaprotest have 757.7K views. You’ll find other similar trending hashtags that accompany videos of users lipsyncing to patriotic and positive Bollywood songs.
But what’s even more significant in the movement is how the protests have swiftly spilled over to the online space.
“When I started looking up content around CAA and the NRC, I saw that a lot of people from all sides were spreading hate,” says Baig. “With my videos, I wanted to spread messages of Hindu-Muslim unity and love. The idea of only positive messaging really worked, and people have loved and shared my stories widely.”Gupta feels this “lightness” has got to with the ecology or architecture of platforms such as TikTok, where “algorithms disincentivise political content and focus on more popular, non-controversial content that can be consumed by people without bringing in ideological differences.” He explains, “It’s like each social media network is a room with several buttons for on and off switch for lights. There are algorithms that are working as wiring. If the light doesn’t switch on or is not bright enough, you can’t do anything to change that because you’ve not been provided that option.”
But it’s evident that, unlike the anger on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, TikTok content around the CAA is comparatively light, even with a tinge of entertainment.
Khan reiterates the sentiment, emphasising that this is different from TikTok’s well-publicised ban on political ads. “As a TikTok creator, I’m aware of all the guidelines and in terms of political content, I haven’t seen any direct messaging by political parties. Even the CAA and NRC related content and protest videos are a part of creative expressions,” he says.
“Till now, I have uploaded two posts on the NRC and CAA and they weren’t removed. In fact, both of those videos got a lot of traction,” says Baig. “TikTok usually freezes problematic accounts but, so far, that’s not happened.”