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On August 12, 2017, when 15-year-old Ankan Dey from West Bengal was declared the first victim of the Blue Whale Challenge in India—in which participants have to complete a series of challenges, with suicide as the last one—the country woke up to the enormity of cyber threats and its softest victims: children and young adults. Over the last few years, India’s relationship with online apps, and the all-access that these social platforms allow people, especially the young ones, has seen a steep growth. Statistics portal Statista reports around 326 million social network users in India in 2018, with YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp leading the pack.
And then there’s the problem child on the block: TikTok.In 2018, the Chinese mobile video-streaming app reportedly had 500 million global active users. In India alone, statistics dated December 2018 show a download blitz of around 32.3 million, according to statistics portal Sensor Tower. Which is why it’s not surprising that the Indian lawmakers have been actively taking note of the nature of the application, which allows its reportedly 25 million daily active Indian users (as of February 2019) to create and share short videos anytime, anywhere. And it’s now asking for the Indian government to step up. Fast.On Wednesday, the Madras High Court passed an interim order to ban TikTok for “encouraging pornography,” saying, “Majority of the teens are playing pranks, gaffing around with duet videos sharing with split screen to the strangers. The children who use the said application are vulnerable and may expose them to sexual predators …. Without understanding the dangers involved in these kinds of mobile apps, it is unfortunate that our children are testing with these apps.”The Indian government has been directed to prohibit downloading of the app; the media is prohibited from telecasting the videos made on the app; and to enact a law, like the United State’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which protects Indian children from becoming cyber/online victims.The app taps into the bustling Indian fascination with the film industry, with most users memeing, dancing and lip-syncing to popular music or dialogues. Most users have been reported to be “scantily clad” and “suggestive”, which, in February this year, led the Information Technology minister of Tamil Nadu, M Manikandan, to call the content “unbearable” and leading to “cultural degradation”. (Interestingly, one of the most popular tags on TikTok are for political videos, with #narendramodi garnering more than 30 million views and #rahulgandhi with nearly 13 million hits, according to a Reuters report.)