Madras HC imposed a ban on the Chinese app, which has taken the internet by storm in India
Apple and Google have pulled off the app from their respective app stores
New Delhi: A rapidly growing user base of TikTok, a short video mobile application, underlines escalating social media addiction and has forced the government into action amidst a ban by the Madras High Court.
The Madras High Court on Tuesday refused to stay the ban on the app and appointed an independent counsel to the case. On Monday, Supreme Court refused to stay an earlier order by the Madras High Court that asked the Indian government to ban the TikTok app for spreading inappropriate content.
TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with special effects which are hugely popular but many have warned that the content is inappropriate. The high court in Tamil Nadu asked the government on April 3 to ban TikTok downloads, saying it encouraged pornography and warning that sexual predators could target child users.
Toeing the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s diktat, tech giants Apple and Google pulled off the app from their respective app stores, but TikTok continues to be used extensively in the country with the app's engagement rates in millions. This has triggered concerns from mental health experts.
While such apps are developed and marketed to be popular and entertaining, psychiatrists highlight there is emergent need to understand why a specific individual is relentlessly attracted to it. According to analytics firm, Sensor Tower, the app has already recorded 300 million users in India, out of more than 1 billion downloads globally.
“There are established vulnerability patterns or risk factors," said Dr Jayant Mahadevan, from National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, “Deficit in social skills, difficulty in conversing and recognizing emotions, seeking instant gratification through social media. Individuals undergoing a difficult emotion of any kind are often seen spending more time on such apps."
There is low threshold of boredom among people and sharing content on social media provides instant gratification.
While most users claim that they are driven to the app solely for ‘entertainment, fun’, experts warn that there could be underlying mental health concerns.
“It is certainly a mental health issue. Any kind of excessive behaviour needs to be recognized and adequately addressed. It could be a form of behavioral addiction, but we should be careful when we use the term, as both social media usage and addiction are separate issues," said Dr Jayant Mahadevan, from National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore.
Experts said the need is more to recognize the threats emerging from internet and social media usage.
“We need to look at the problem in a scientific manner. We faced a similar situation with PUBG, and now TikTok. If we do not recognize it correctly now, it will emerge again, and again. A ban may not contain the damage," said Dr Arun Kandasamy, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS.
In 2017, an online game called ‘Blue Whale’ forced the government to swing into action after reports of suicides by teenagers who had downloaded the game.
There have been demands to ban online gaming platform PUBG as well that garnered one of its largest user base in India in a short span of few months, mostly youngsters, forcing authorities to take action.
"The internet has taken over so many of our activities, that we assume it is all acceptable. There are no guidelines to governing its usage," said Dr Kandasamy, “a single app is not so much of a problem, as the fact that we have not created an environment for youngsters to express and communicate openly. So, they are prompted to use such ‘easy to use’ apps, which are giving them instant entertainment and an audience with the click of a button."
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