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TikTok ban: Is Bytedance’s short video sharing app being singled out?


TikTok, a short-video platform, that belonged from China has been at the centre of the storm in India of late.

A fortnight ago, the app was banned by the Madras High Court for spreading inappropriate content. And two weeks later after the Supreme Court refused to stay on the ruling while Google and Apple took it down from their app stores.

Now, the app cannot be downloaded online until the apex court rule otherwise in next hearing that is scheduled on April 22. The judgement has led to widespread debate on micro-blogging site Twitter.

While many held the judgement as a good move, several people observe it was too harsh for an app, which merely serves as a platform for video sharing.

Before we analyse the judgement of banning the Chinese app, let’s have quick look over the app’s phenomenal growth. TikTok, which allows users to make and upload short videos of up to 15 seconds, emerged as a major competitor to social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Periscope soon after its launch.

It caught the fancy of young users (aka millennials), especially first-time internet users. It now claims to have over 500 million users worldwide and over 120 million in India.

As thing stands today, there are very few apps in the country that command as much users on its platform. And being banned for its offensive contents, which are posted by the users not the platform. Though, the usage of the app has not been banned.

But it has restricted new users joining the application and expressing themselves on the application. Leading to a series of questions to be answered.

Does not it make the case of punishing the app for what users do on the platform? How the ban will curb people who are already on the app? Is the internet in the country has mechanism and regulation in place to filter content on it? Is the court saying a social site like Facebook or video platform Youtube is free of disturbing content?

Is accessing pornography illegal in India? The answer is ‘No’.

So, is TikTok being singled out for being a new player or game changer? In all likelihood, yes.

Will the ban also extend other similar apps such as Bigo Live, Vigo and Kwai? For answers, maybe we will have to wait till the final judgement comes.

Meanwhile, on the legal front, under Section 79 of the IT Act, TikTok cannot be held liable for the actions of its users, unless it doesn’t act after a court order is issued to take down the offending content.

The Madras court’s major concern was that the app is spoiling children and making them vulnerable by sharing their personal information.

TikTok in an e-mail reply to Entrackr has confirmed that it is ready to abide by the rules of local law. It has also removed six million videos for not complying with community guidelines. It also enables users and law enforcement to report content that violates its terms of use and comprehensive Community Guidelines.

In short, the app is ready to comply with local regulations.

One more reason- why banning would lead to a debate over how internet function in the country and require the framing of a new law for social media apps?

One thing for sure if the ban continues, which is less likely, will catapult India into a league of countries regulating platforms rather than devising laws for them.

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