Not so TikTok, Supreme Court presents a ban on the Chinese Entertainment App

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Recently, the High Court of Maras raised concerns over the adult content put in as “pornographic and inappropriate content” circulated through the TikTok App and directed the Central Government to ban it. The court also asked the government if it would enact a statute like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the US. Now, the Chinese company behind the app, ByteDance, has approached the Supreme Court, asking it to quash the directive by the High Court. The company told the court that a ban “amounts to curtailing of the rights of the citizens of India…who have been using the platform everyday to express themselves and create content.”
The app is hugely popular in India, with 8.86 crore new users just in the first quarter of 2019. The news about the call for its ban has understandably upset those who use it as a platform to showcase their talents. Puneites who regularly use the app and parents of minors who have accounts on it say that instead of banning the app, the authorities should look at regulating its content.

WHY IS THERE A DEMAND TO BAN TIKTOK?

According to the High Court, “The dangerous aspect is that inappropriate contents including language and pornography are being posted in the TikTok app. There is a possibility of children contacting strangers directly and getting lured by them. It is unfortunate that our children are using these apps without understanding the dangers involved in these kinds of mobile apps.”

After the case was presented in the Madras High Court, there were reports that the Karnataka State Commission for Women is planning to submit a writ appeal to the Supreme Court to ban the usage of the app. Nagalakshmi Bai, the head of the Commission, was quoted as saying, “Tik-Tok is used by everyone and it encourages pornography. The videos that children using the app make are overtly sexual in nature, which is a reason for concern. We are worried about the ill-effects the app could have on young minds. Recently, there were incidents in Bengaluru and Mumbai involving children, where a teenage boy sexually assaulted his younger sister. Apps like these are a reason that women are objectified.”

In its response to the allegations of inappropriate content, the makers of TikTok, ByteDance Technology Co Ltd. said that they have appointed a Chief Nodal Officer in India to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies. “We fully comply with the Information Technology (Inter mediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. In order to better coordinate with the law enforcement agencies, we have appointed a Chief Nodal Officer based out of India,” the company said in a statement.

‘PARENTS SHOULD JUST MONITOR AND FILTER THE CONTENT INSTEAD OF BANNING THE APP’

In a court filing, requesting the Supreme Court to quash the directive of the High Court, the company reportedly said, “A ban amounts to curtailing of the rights of the citizens of India…who have been using the platform everyday to express themselves and create content.” ByteDance said users flagged only a tiny proportion of TikTok videos, showing that a “very minuscule” proportion of its content was considered inappropriate or obscene. It added that TikTok was primarily used to circulate amusing videos.

The makers of the app on Friday said they removed over six million videos in India that have violated its community guidelines since July last year. “This is part of TikTok’s ongoing efforts to make its millions of users feel safe and comfortable within the community by empowering them with the right tools and resources,” the company said in a statement.

IF KIDS DANCING TO OBSCENE SONGS IS A CONCERN, THEN BAN REALITY SHOWS TOO: PARENTS OF MINORS USING THE APP

Parents who have allowed their children to make videos on the app say that they never felt like they were risking the safety of their children. “A child who is not a teenager is not likely to use a phone without parental guidance. Teenagers who want to access pornographic content can do so even if the app is banned. I think that parents should just monitor and filter the content. I have also argued with people who object to this app saying that kids make videos to songs with obscene lyrics. I tell them that we already have a lot of that content on dance reality shows, why should they not be banned first?” says Shilpa Gupta, mother of a 14-year-old girl.

“Spreading vulgar content in the name of viral videos is definitely creating a negative impact. Especially on the younger generation which is not able to distinguish between the right and wrong. Rather than the ban, I would say there has to be a strong system in place where content could be verified and filtered before it is allowed to be uploaded on the web. There also needs to be a lot of awareness among peers, education system and young adults about the repercussions of such content going viral and landing in wrong hands. Regulation is the need of the hour rather than a ban,” feels Heena Khan, a mother of a teenager.

‘SUCH CONTENT IS EASILY AVAILABLE ON OTHER PLATFORMS AS WELL, WHY SINGLE OUT TIKTOK?’

Irked by the demand to ban the app, young users ask, “Why can’t the government regulate content, why ban everything?” Most users of the app say that they use it for entertainment and have “never found the content derogatory or pornographic in nature.”

“If we are talking about pornographic content, then YouTube should be banned first. Such content is easily available on other platforms as well, why single out TikTok? The minute government uses the word ‘ban’, it makes people, especially teenagers and kids, more interested in finding out why it is being banned. So, all those who might be using the app just for fun, might want to discover the said pornographic content now,” says Nidhi Goswami, a 28-year old consultant working in HR firm.

Priyanka Mhankale, 25-year-old working professional, says that like other platforms, this app too has a minimum age to join and the content should be regulated for users who are underage. “If the authorities think that there is any pornographic content available on the app, they should regulate the content for users who are minors. The app requires users to be at least 13 years old and banning it for someone who is an adult makes no sense.”

According to media professional Trishala Rane, there must be proper guidlines put up by the app. “Banning it in one place isn’t going to help. If at all they are banning, it should be banned across the country. No one follows rules until there is a stringent punishment. In the case of apps, which are online and can be monitored, people should be told how to make proper use of the app,” she says.

College student Abhilasha Jha questions the logic behind a ban, given that the people spreading such content can easily find other avenues to do the same. “Tik Tok isn’t the first platform that is used to spread vulgar content and pornography. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all these portals are also used to spread such things, so did we ban all of it? No. Just like all these platforms have security rules, Tik Tok should also have it. But if you ban it, people will find other ways to spread the same dirt. So rather than banning it they can come up with other solutions. When someone reports a video, it should be removed as soon as possible,” she says.

It is not just for fun, there are several users who make videos on Tik-Tok to showcase their talent, says Mehak Suri, a 24-year-old blogger. “Not everyone gets a chance to clear auditions and be a part of reality shows. I know so many people whom TikTok has given a platform to act, create videos and share those with a large number of people,” says Mehak. Class 12 th student Rajanya Banerjee, agrees, saying, “A platform like this is pretty much a boon for talented youngsters who need a launchpad to showcase their talent. I’m most definitely not in favour of the ban.”

CONTENT OF THE APP SHOULD BE LOOKED AT OBJECTIVELY BEFORE BANNING IT: LEGAL EXPERT

Karnika Seth, a lawyer and cyber law expert says that the type of content circulated on the platform has an important role in deciding whether the said platform should be banned or not. “For any app or social media, if it has any kind of adult content which involves children, then it is important to remember that child pornography is prohibited under the IT Act. Banning the app depends on the kind of content it has, especially if it also involves minors. One needs to check if it is only adult content, or if it is child pornography or something directly obscene or impliedly obscene, and then decide whether it should be banned or not. The content has to be looked at objectively. If something really amounts to being pornographic, a question can be raised,” she explains.

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