It came as heartbreaking news for 120 million monthly active TikTok users in India when the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) directed Apple and Google to remove the app from it’s App store and Play store respectively.
This comes after Madras High Court on April 3 put a ban on TikTok, following which both Apple and Google have removed the apps.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Madras High Court order that directed the Centre to ban Tiktok over concerns about access to pornographic content making child users vulnerable to sexual predators. Terming the ban as just an interim order, the apex court will hear the matter again on April 22.
In a press statement, TikTok responded to the Madras High Court order stating, “We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curiae (independent counsel) to the court. We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would allow over 120 Mn monthly active users in India to continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture the moments that matter in their everyday lives.”
Just when China’s Bytedance Technology was considering to invest more in one of its key potential markets, the ban comes as a setback. In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene. had plans for more investment as it expands the business.
The BIG Implications
India is TikTok’s largest market (39% of its over 500MN global active users are from India) and hence if the ban continues, it will affect the platform’s growth and finances, since TikTok had recently (in November 2018), revealed its advertising solutions in India – which are yet to realize its full potential. “The ban might also result in TikTok losing its follower & revenue share to other Chinese apps that are gaining momentum and also cater to similar audience base,” shared Shrenik Gandhi, Chief Executive Officer, and Co-Founder, White Rivers Media.
According to Sumitra Sarkar, VP, Strategy & Client Services, Indigo Consulting the ban on Tik Tok is extremely unfortunate, for people and marketers alike. At a time when leading social media platforms have become too mainstream, Tik Tok allows tier 2 and 3 users to explore their talent without the fear of being judged.
“In our country, we need newer platforms which promote organic participation and allow marketers to truly engage with their audience across tiers. A platform that can win over 100 million users in such a short time has definitely proven that there is indeed a need gap. They should’ve anticipated potential misuse and taken adequate precautions through usage limitations as many other platforms practice.”
Technology is never the problem, but how technology is used can be good or bad. Platforms definitely need to take measures to control offensive/vulgar content. Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, CEO & Co-Founder, Gozoop sees this impacting brand campaigns on Tik Tok in the short term. “We were also planning TikTok campaigns for our clients at Gozoop, but right now we will be re-evaluating them. We are expecting campaigns to restart, as soon as the platform abides by the law.”
TikTok Ban- A right move?
“Banning Tik Tok from the play store is a right move or not, can be debatable,” said Shradha Agarwal, COO, Grapes Digital. “But some move had to be taken keeping in mind that the audience of Tik Tok was fairly young and unlike Facebook, parents are not there to know this. This strict step by the government had made both parent aware and Tik Tok team actionable to figure out ways to stop consumption of pornographic and hatred content.”
On the other hand, Chandni Shah, COO- Social Kinnect thinks that what we are really missing here is the bigger picture. “On the Internet, the content of any kind needs to be consumed responsibly. An app cannot be held solely responsible for the kind of content that features on it.” India alone consists of more than 120 million of the app’s 500 million users.
As of now, the app has only been banned for downloads, and people who already have the app can use it.
Also, what many don’t know is that Tik Tok was also previously fined for illegally collecting personal information from children under the age of 13, such as their names, email addresses, and location.
Gandhi feels that an app by app ban might not be a full-proof solution to curb child pornography. There is a need for the centre and platforms to collectively find a way to deal with the content. There are several such apps (YouTube being one of the major players) and other online activities that need content regulation, and upholding the order may lead similar bans, in effect leading to large-scale and wide-spread censorship of the internet, which can be misused and curb our freedom of speech.
“While I’m not best suited to play verdict on why the ban has been forced, we do know that there’s some incredible talent on TikTok and they shouldn’t lose the opportunity,” said Pranay Swarup, CEO & Co-Founder, Chtrbox.com.
Influencers to feel the heat?
Ever since TikTok was launched in India, we’ve witnessed a steady rise in a newer set of creators on the platform, also known as Musers. The platform created a massive new opportunity for not just users to be entertained, but be able to express and connect with each other in creative ways.
Sharing his opinion on if influencers will be impacted, Swarup said, “You need to remember that you have a following because you are talented and platform agnostic. Audiences care about what you have to say, and plaforms may come and go, but talented creators will always find their way to further themselves. Something to remember is that it is important to diversify across multiple social media platforms to make sure that your voice remains relevant.”
“With Tik Tok on the verge of being banned it India, the foremost and largest impact is going to be felt by brands who have planned influencer campaigns in the coming months or have any ongoing campaigns,” feels Sonam Shah, CEO & Founder, Treize Communications. TikTok influencers will definitely be affected by this step. While most of them would have followers on other social media platforms, Tik Tok was an upcoming and fast growing platform and a lot of influencers were moving towards it.
The platform is a gateway to tap the non-English speaking, vernacular and new internet users in India, which platforms like Facebook are struggling to adapt to. (A 2017 report from KPMG, a consultancy, said that Indian language Internet user base has, in fact, surpassed English users.) According to Gandhi, if the ban continues, brands will majorly miss out on reaching the regional user base.
Brands which heavily focus on UGC might have to relook at their earned media generation strategy, as the platform’s primary purpose is to make its consumers the creators.
For Sumedh Chapekar, Co-Founder at NOFILTR.GROUP, TikTok is a tremendously powerful platform. “The primary purpose of our business is to mentor and guide creators on their journey and after that help them monetize their platforms. ”
Will TikTok Bounce Back?
“We love TikTok, and we wish them luck with this situation. We believe they’ll be back soon,” exclaimed Chapekar.
Also Read: Platform Feature: TikTok
A censorship method should be in kept in place too. Apps like PubG and Tik Tok are used by very young kids and we are seeing consequences to these. Parental control is a must and there should be a process set here regarding the same.
Echoing similar views, Agarwal put the spotlight on kids consuming content on the platform. She said, “Kids who want to consume things anyways will do it, but it cannot be a discovery on your timeline when you are not looking for one. Tik Tok being a tech company should use AI and machine learning to monitor such content in the first place and our government should create policies to avoid situations like these before allowing tech companies to enter India.”
“While I have been reading quite a lot about how this is raising concerns over free speech in India, I’m of the opinion that every application introduced in the markets, especially those used by children, should be regulated,” opined Chandni Shah.
Gandhi noted that the ban serves as a warning for similar platforms (Helo, LIKE and more) to tighten their content regulation guidelines on both the content being published and the reactions to those content pieces. Further, it is also an opportunity for them to develop innovative ad solutions since brands might migrate to these platforms if the ban continues.
However, in a fresh development Google search trends show that after the ban was declared, Indians desperately searched “how to download TikTok” online.
Hence, the critical question for Sarkar and many of us is who is the next Tik Tok?