Recently, the Madras High Court voiced concerns over the “pornographic and inappropriate content” being circulated through the app TikTok and directed the Centre 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. Recently, a post on the Facebook page of GurgaonMoms asked , “Last week, a court has asked the government to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and made minors vulnerable to sexual predators. What are your thoughts?” “My daughter and I only share TikTok videos with friends and family. We never publish it as we don’t want to share it with strangers,” commented a member on the post. “I don’t think TikTok is harmful. There is bad and good for everything, and the same goes for this app. I feel there are far more important issues that need to be addressed and banned immediately,” wrote another member.

Delhiites 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, “TikTok 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 (Intermediaries 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.

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
Delhi 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, and Vasant Vihar resident.

Parul Sharma, mother of an 11-year-old girl and north Delhi resident, adds, “I am okay with my daughter using the app, but it is not safe for parents to let their kids use any app without monitoring the content, especially it if may have anything that can prove to be unsafe for them. Uploading videos by keeping parents in the loop is fine, but the account should be kept private.”

‘If need be, regulate content, why ban it?’
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 based in Noida.

Jagandeep Singh, a 25-year-old TikTok user based in Shahadra, says that like other platforms, this app also has a minimum age to join. However, he adds that 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,” he says.

It is not just for fun, there are several users who make videos on TikTok 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.

Content of the app should be looked at objectively before banning it: legal expert

Karnika Seth, a Delhi-based 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.