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HomeArticlesTikTok Government in a fix as Madras HC wants a ban
Monday, 13 May 2019 11:57

TikTok Government in a fix as Madras HC wants a ban

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First there was only cinema and people used to go to the ubiquitous cinema halls in their cities and towns and even travelled miles from villages to the nearby cities and struggled at the windows to buy the tickets. Then came the TV which, to some point, killed the charm of Cinema halls. But now, cheaper smartphones and falling data rates eroded the charm of cinemas halls like nothing else. Internet enabled mobilephones gave people enormous powers to become actors, producers, publishers and broadcasters, all rolled in one. They needed no one to express their long hidden desires of showcasing their own talents rather than watching other actors. 

Facebook gave some powers to them to achieve this objective, but TikTok which appeared late quickly became their paradise platform to express themselves and their talents.    

TikTok, the Chinese app mostly used by teenagers worldwide, has won over not only teenagers but bhabhis, nanis, dadis, dadas, everyone to showcase their dancing skills and other talents they possess to a worldwide audiences. They could create and share videos which are less than 60 seconds and broadcast them to millions. TikTok is telling us how talented all these users are and the terrific dancing skills many of them possess, though mediocrity remains. The platforms hosts Jokes, clips and footage related to the movie industry, especially Bollywood, along with videos in which young people, sometimes scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to Bollywood music.


Global success in few years: 

TikTok, which is called as Douyin in China, and is owned by ByteDance. It was launched in China in September 2016 and introduced to the overseas market as TikTok in 2017. As TikTok’s video-only interface makes it easier for users to use it than platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, has been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, as per app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Also, one can consume its videos without even opening an account. 


Charges of nudity & legal hurdles: 

However, slowly people realized that TikTok is killing their cultural values as it promotes nudity, and families are objecting as their daughters are posting raunchy videos seen and commented by thousands of people. Then there were charges like hate speech, as well as videos that were against the mandate of the Election Commission of India (ECI).

On 10 April 2019, the Madras High Court asked the Centre to ban downloads of TikTok for the charges mentioned above. The government is now studying the order. As per officials of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), the order is very hard to implement and instead of the government, the affected party should appeal. 

An official said: “We are yet to go through the order in detail, but it appears to be unimplementable. Rather than the government getting involved at this stage, it would be appropriate for the affected party to appeal the matter.” 

The tech giant Google too corroborated that the government has not directed it to block Tik-Tok on its Playstore, from where the app has been downloaded over 200 million times in India. 

The Madras HC issued the directive following concerns that children were becoming addicted to the app and privacy activists said the court’s directions have been done without adequate legal reasoning. The court said that TikTok's inappropriate content was a dangerous aspect of the app. 

The Internet Freedom Foundation said: “The first direction prohibits the download of the application, the second prohibits the television telecast of videos created through it and the third directs a response from the Union Government on its position to legislate a statute analogous to the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Much of this has been done without adequate legal reasoning.” 


Regulation or banning:

However as per legal eagles, it is better to regulate a social platform than ban it.

According to TS Somashekar, Director of the Centre for Competition and Regulation at the National Law School of India University, “TikTok is a two-sided platform with users and advertisers as the two sides. It derives its revenues from advertisements and other in-app purchases by the user, although the use of the app itself requires no payment. Although the user pays nothing for downloading and using the app, in such cases they themselves become the product by virtue of surrendering their data and their eyeballs for advertisements. The key would be to regulate this transaction to ensure that TikTok has the right incentives to build safeguards and innovate.” 


Rights of the free speech:

The owner of TikTok, Bytedance Technology Company too expressed its views and said that the Madras HC’s order of banning will hurt the rights of the free speech; it requested the Supreme Court to trash the Madras HC’s directive.

Bytedance 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.”

The Chinese start-up 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 TikTok was primarily used to circulate amusing videos. It also argued that it could not be held liable for content posted by users.

At present, Bytedance employs more than 250 people in India and will invest more in near future. 

However, political parties find TikTok attractive to impress young voters and the BJP is tracking conversations on TikTok, as per party's information technology chief, Amit Malviya. He called it as ‘a brilliant medium for creative expression.’


Ban lifted: 

Giving a big relief to the Chinese short video platform TikTok, the Madras High Court, on 24 April 2019, lifted the ban on its operations in India. 

The court took the decision after hearing appeals from TikTok India’s senior advocate, Isaac Mohanlal, and independent counsel, Arvind Datar, which appealed under multiple, constitutionally approved grounds. The judgement lifts the stay order by the Supreme Court, on the interim ban imposed by the Madurai bench earlier this month. 

Advocate Mohanlal stated in favour of TikTok that the company has put restrictive technology in place to ensure that content covering nudity, obscenity and of pornographic nature is not uploaded, created or distributed through the platform. Further submissions also included a comprehensive list of measures that TikTok has undertaken in order to remain legally compliant and operate in India. 

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