Is there life after a TikTok ban? A nation goes into withdrawal4 min read . Updated: 24 Sep 2020, 11:12 AM IST
Bereft fans in India, where TikTok was banned this summer, say other apps just aren’t the same
American fans of TikTok have recently been left pondering a possible future without their favorite short-video sharing app. India knows what that future looks like, and it isn’t pretty.
“I’m still mourning the death of TikTok," said Faizaan Pathan, an auto rickshaw driver who transformed himself into a TikTok phenom known as David King, with dyed blond hair, blue contacts and flashy clothes. “I’m sad. My future feels uncertain. I just sleep in my room all day."
India ousted the app months ago, and ever since, the nation has been in TikTok withdrawal. Until this summer, India was TikTok’s biggest market, with more than 400 million downloads. Wannabe TikTok stars hoping for their 15 seconds of fame crowded parks and malls across the country, shooting videos to share their Bollywood dance, comedy and lip-syncing skills. In just a couple of years from launch, TikTok was getting more downloads every month in India than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Its climb to the top ended abruptly in late June when New Delhi banned it along with dozens of other Chinese apps, saying it was a security threat. ByteDance Ltd., the company that runs TikTok, denies the charge.
President Trump had threatened to ban the app in the U.S. as well. He has since agreed to a tentative deal between TikTok’s parent company and Walmart and Oracle that would effectively make it a majority American-owned company.
Some Indian users are hoping that if the deal goes through, New Delhi could lift its ban.
“I’ve been praying every day for TikTok to come back to us," said Kundan Negi, an unemployed carpenter in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand who used to have 200,000 followers on TikTok. “Mr. Trump could be our salvation. We will give him blessings and pray that he gets re-elected."
Asha Limbu used to post more than five videos a day on TikTok. She didn’t have a device that could store the videos, so she lost them all when the app was suddenly blocked on June 30. She had friends she could only reach through TikTok messages, and now they’re gone, too. Losing TikTok has been tougher than breaking up with her boyfriend last year, she said.
“I got over that in less than a month," she said, but she still can’t top thinking about TikTok months later. “The breakup with TikTok has broken not just my heart but also my strength and spirit. It was my favorite hobby, my passion, my love."
To get around the ban, some fans have posted videos on how to use virtual private networks to mask a phone’s location. Without the constant flow of fresh content from India, though, it isn’t the same. Others scroll through old TikTok videos posted on YouTube.
Many apps have stepped up to try to fill the void, including homegrown versions with names like Tik India, TikTalk and Tictik-Tok. Big Indian content companies are pushing their short-video-sharing apps as well. A front-runner has yet to emerge.
TikTok fans say the alternatives still don’t have the user base, technology, content or the interface that made TikTok so addictive.
TikTok was a job for Shivani Kapila, who had more than 10 million followers for her posts about relationships, fashion and music. She had multiple brand sponsorships. It paid enough to support her family as well as staff to help with her posts.
She hadn’t imagined TikTok could be a casualty of tensions between India and China so she hadn’t backed up her massive library of content. The moment she realized it was all gone, she said, she felt like she was having a heart attack.
She has been posting on Instagram and YouTube, but most of her audience and sponsors haven’t followed.
“Two years of hard work are gone. I don’t have the videos. I can’t see my account, I can’t see anything," she said. “It’s made a huge dent in my revenue."
Mr. Pathan, the former rickshaw driver, had hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok when it was shut down. He had hoped he could start getting paying sponsors once he reached 1 million, he said.
He had given up driving and was making videos all day, every day. Crowds would gather when he made his recordings. His biggest clip, at more than 13 million views, showed him doing a dance with a 10-year-old.
When TikTok was blocked, he lost access to the nearly 800 videos he had posted. He was so shocked, he said, he couldn’t eat for two days. Mr. Pathan has tried three other apps but gained fewer than 2,000 followers.
“They are all useless. Nothing is as great as TikTok," he said. “India still buys all sorts of Chinese products so why can’t it allow TikTok? I can’t break this habit."
—Vibhuti Agarwal contributed to this article.
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