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When future generations pick up the history of 2016-2020 years, they shall discover two pandemics. One that shut the global economy for almost eight-weeks, killed thousands, inflected millions. The other, TikTok.
If the Coronavirus outbreak has plagued the physical world, the digital world has been plagued by TikTok, a mobile application owned by China’s ByteDance, one of the most valuable startups in the world. It is backed by SoftBank and along with many other leading Venture Capitalists.
After the Coronavirus, TikTok has to be the worst export from China in recent years. Easy to use, the platform allows videos, generally 15-20 seconds in length, to be uploaded with any audio clipping, from movies to web series or random lines from a movie.
Perhaps, this can explain the wildfire like the growth of the platform which has people from all walks of life, from leading sportsperson of the world to common individuals endorsing Vulgarity, Abuses, Harassment, and Violence against Women for a few seconds of fame.
TikTok was once perceived as one of those random mobile apps put together by some college kids in their free time. However, the numbers of this app are quite astonishing. In 2019, it was the fourth most downloaded app on iOS, just behind Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. Obviously, it is ranked even high on Android (in terms of Popularity), Ranking Second, just behind WhatsApp. Of the 142 Countries, it is available in, it features in the top 20 apps in 135 of them. An average user of the app spends more than an hour on it each day, and currently, there are 800 million such active users. In India alone, it has 190 million users.
In India, Its launch coincided with skyrocketing levels of internet penetration, just as the “Jio Effect” was beginning to be felt.
Who is an average Indian TikTok user?
According to Aman Kumar, Chief Business Officer, KalaGato, a Delhi based market intelligence firm, A majority of TikTok’s users (in India) are 18-35 years old and come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities.
Unfortunately, TikTok too has a personalization algorithm (The Devil Algo), just like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Netflix where it keeps suggesting the users watch more and more similar kind content. (NO, IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE CONSUMER)
This algorithm makes sure that the user doesn’t leave the app too soon, and this “app addiction” is only fueled during the Lockdown.
Below chart shows the average daily time spent on these social media apps by Indians between 9th February 2020 and 22nd March 2020. All of these apps are video-streaming apps and all of them have one thing in common, “the algorithm”
How much money is involved?
TikTok’s parent ByteDance is currently valued at more than $100 Billion (or Seven Lacs, Fifty Thousand Crore rupees). For context, The Boeing Company, a multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells aeroplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, satellites, telecommunications equipment, and missiles worldwide, has a current valuation of $75 Billion. Imagine being Boeing’s promoter and falling $25 Billion short to reach a valuation equal to an app which creates short, cringe content!
Moving on to content creators, Approximately 52% of Indian Full-Time TikTok Content Creators earn less than 25,000 rupees ($350) per month. An average organised Indian Mithai Shop clocks a little more Daily Average Revenue (DAR) than this figure. (Those who know, Know! :P)
But what is actually wrong with TikTok?
Promotion of various social evils and criminal activities
Besides the recent controversy of a popular TikTok “Star” who allegedly promoted violence on women in his video, there are many videos promoting animal violence, sexual harassment, child affairs, communal violence etc. Clips of which can be found with a simple search on Youtube too. Tell me what do you think the Gen-Z are learning from all this?
One of the most popular kinds of videos from TikTok’s users, who are mostly young and female, are lip-synched videos, where they dance and sing along with their favourite songs. These performances are sometimes sexualized by older men who lurk on the app, sending the young creators explicit messages and, in some cases, remixing the videos and dancing along with them via a TikTok feature called “duet.”
Reduced attention span
TikTok in itself is a platform responsible for the decreasing attention span of the kids and other users alike. Nobody wants to get into the details of anything including news-related content and is merely OKAY with knowing the Catchy Headline and making assumptions. This also leads to the spreading of fake news which, ironically, TikTok is currently campaigning against.
Lack of Regulation
Regulation sucks big time on TikTok. According to a report by WIRED, Over the five-month period, the documents reveal that 677,544 videos were reported to moderators and only one in ten of them (67,431) were removed for breaking TikTok’s guidelines. The number of videos reported accounted for just 0.00006 per cent of all those uploaded and only 1.01 per cent of the accounts reported were banned.
This data only shows the statistics where the content was actually reported. Imagine, the state wherein the majority of content goes un-reported. Given the users on TikTok aren’t smart enough to report objectionable content against women, children, and certain communities, they surely cannot be trusted to understand the intricacies around data literacy. We are already aware of how much an average user of this App knows about regulations and reporting.
The amount of cringe experienced by the people watching such posts is horrendous. The amount of posts generated daily is increasing resulting in the death of brain cells. People with no creativity are getting famous, because of this, the upcoming generation is looking up to these people and is not using their strengths in the right direction.
Challenges and Stunts
To get a few likes/comments or whatever mode of appreciation is there on that app, kids/youth are found attempting stunts on bridges, rail tracks, rail doors, electricity, rivers, and whatnot. The result – Instant Death or Permanent Disability. Every week, a new baseless challenge floats on TikTok, and it is very disheartening to watch that people actually perform it.
Data Privacy and Censorship
With 190 million users today, and many millions more in the future, data of gullible Indians is readily available for Chinese companies (read state) to exploit. As per recent media reports, any content which was against Chinese interests was to be censored, while any posts backing the independence of Taiwan, Tibet, or advocating the cause of Hong Kong protesters were to be censored. Similar concerns have also been raised by senators in the United States.
While TikTok has promised better regulation of content to ensure users act responsibly on the platform, no positive outcome has been achieved so far. Unfortunately, some really creative content is being shadowed under the vicious trap of continual cringe content. We need to look at the larger picture here, the harm being caused apparently has a greater impact than the innovation being promoted. Hence, the need of the hour is to shut it down until the company addresses the issues being highlighted.
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