TikTok in India: To ban or not to ban? The debate heats up after sexually violent videos draw flak
Finding ways to kill lockdown boredom, people seem to be going overboard with both creating, and consuming content online. However, for TikTok users, it seems, there’s no defined norms, as some users are promoting misogynist and sexually violent content in the name of entertainment.
Just a day after TikToker Faizal Siddiqui’s account was removed following a video showing him throwing liquid (suggesting acid) on a girl’s face who refused his advances, another repulsive video surfaced on the platform — this time advocating rape. It shows TikToker Mujibur Rehman and his friend, zipping up their pants as the girl sobs and adjusts her clothes.
Enraged, netizens made #BanTikTok, #TikTokExposed, #TikTokDown trend on Twitter.
Seeking “a total ban” on the Chinese app, Reka Sharma, chairperson, National Commission for Women (NCW), tweeted: “... TikTok is pushing youngsters towards unproductive life where they are living only for few followers...”
Activists and NGOs working for women safety feel that mindset is the whole problem here and that needs to change first.
Yogita Bhayani, Founder, PARI (People Against Rapes in India), says, “My heart was bleeding seeing those videos. I work with rape victims and know how they suffer. I felt so bad looking at that girl in the video. Do these kids even know the meaning of rape? I’m sure their parents are clueless about the content their child is creating, and they feel proud that of them being popular on TikTok. I hold them equally responsible.”
Like many, Bhayana also blames it on the sheer lack of gender sensitisation among Indian youth. “Whenever we talk about sexual violence, it’s not related to men or women, both need to be sensitised — at homes, in schools, offices, police stations and everywhere,” she says, adding that to some extent, she also blames “Bollywood song for objectifying women that are used as background music for such videos.”
CELEBS RAISE CONCERN
Frequent users on TikTok, whether celebrities or not, assert that one has to take responsibility on the kind of content they are making and sharing.
Actor Shilpa Shetty Kundra, who is quite active on TikTok, calls these videos “terrible”, and questions, “How can it be entertaining? There are strict community guidelines on these platforms dependent on UGC (user generated content), where anything objectionable is removed immediately. I strongly condemn such content”.
Kundra also urges influencers to be “responsible for their content”, she also calls for “strictest actions when faltered”.
Actor Vikrant Massey, who played an activist helping acid attack victims in Chhaapak, feels these videos somewhere show a collective psyche of most of us. “These are damn unpleasant videos to watch. Koi yeh videos bana raha hai, koi dekh raha hai, koi forward bhi kar raha hai. So, the problem is with all of us as a society that we let such TikTok videos resurface. And given that it’s happening under supervision and authority makes it more problematic. It also shows out subconscious cognizance with patriarchy and crime against women with such insensitive things,” he says.
Massey further adds that since we know such content exists online, “Counselling is what we lack. By suspending accounts or filing an FIR, you just dust off the issue. Grassroot problem needs to be solved and parents need to be counselled.”
Actor Taapsee Pannu, who played a sexual attack victim in Pink (2016) and stood up against domestic violence in Thappad, feels the age-old misogyny is so deep-rooted that “it’ll a long time for us to wash it out.”
However, she says that it’s for the content creators to understand what they’re promoting. “We can’t police each and every one of them. They might stop making videos of such kind but what’s the guarantee they won’t practice it in real. If we really have to deal with it, it had to dealt from the root,” Pannu asserts.
Making a rather strong point, she further adds that we should stop making these TikTokers ‘influencers’ by totally disregarding their content. “These people most of the times make stuff that they know will get eyeballs and attention towards them. It’s their few minutes of fame. We should just look through them and make them feel insignificant, so they realise that this isn’t how they are going to get our attention.”
WHAT TIKTOK HAS TO SAY?
As the debate raged, TikTok shared a statement with a message on social media: “TikTok is a platform that celebrates creativity & expression. We aim to create a positive in-app environment that brings people and communities together and request all our users to respect this intent.”
Meanwhile, Harshal Hirve, Community Manager at Tiktok India, says it’s practically impossible to monitor each and every user’s content. “We have a moderation team that treats all creators in the same way, and it’s not that only when popular handles post something, we monitor that. We handle a lot of users and such cases on daily basis, but just because Faizal was a popular creator and the mess he created, this issue got highlighted. We have guidelines and we also train creators about how to post content and what should not be posted. And if someone is making videos of his own, we’re not responsible for it. But, if something disturbs our platform, we will definitely action.”
In fact, amid the whole debate of banning the app in the Indian market, a news came out that Kevin Mayer, Chairman of International division of Walt Disney and global streaming chief of Disney+ will be Tiktok global CEO from June.
SELF MONITOR THE CONTENT
The bigger question at hand remains: Is it time TikTok faces a mass ban?
We reached out to several Tiktok stars, too, but since most of them are young, even minors, their parents didn’t want them to comment. However, the father of a popular TikToker and TV actor, says on the condition on anonymity, “I keep a close check on whatever content my daughter creates and posts on these platforms. I do all I can to protect her.”
Pointing that there are both good and bad sides to this, 27-year-old TikTok user, Manoj Jadhav feels banning the app won’t help, but the accounts of specific people need to be removed.
He explains, “There are so many poor people yet so talented, and with their dancing, acting, have become so popular on TikTok. But there are some who’re spreading hate and negativity in the name of content. They need to be banned. They create offensive content only to increase their follower count, and think just by making a duet with a girl, they can become us famous.”
Bhayana adds, “Of course banning these apps is an immediate solution, but what’s the surety that nothing else will pop up? How will you ban pornography which is a bigger monster and a click away?”
Interact with the author at @monikarawal