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There are two factors behind the controversies TikTok finds itself in India: its popularity surge in quick time and private data going to a Chinese firm (Photo: Bloomberg)
There are two factors behind the controversies TikTok finds itself in India: its popularity surge in quick time and private data going to a Chinese firm (Photo: Bloomberg)

TikTok’s 15-second videos a rage, but govt isn’t amused

  • TikTok was one of the most downloaded apps in the world last year. Teenagers to homemakers are using the app, which is hugely popular in India, to make funny 15-second videos
  • Mint looks at why the app is never far from controversy

What has helped the spread of TikTok?

TikTok, the app promoted by China’s ByteDance, is the Twitter of videos. It is easy to use and the app’s features allow anybody to make short videos, the 15-second ones being the most popular format, and post them online or share them through various other apps. With social media being full of people who are keen to share their personal lives and opinions on any issue, the app allows them to mix music from existing compositions or film songs in their videos. The videos can also be adjusted to introduce a slow-motion effect or a ramped-up one. One can also look for entertaining videos, watch and share them.

What’s at the heart of its popularity in India?

It’s a video app with no text. This takes away the fear of being judged for writing poor English, a big factor that prevents people from posting their comments on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This is the reason the app is so popular in small towns and among the lower strata of society, where people suffer because of the lack of English language skills. The mobile-driven app, unlike Facebook and Twitter that only show content from people one is following, delivers videos to a user based on what they have posted or watched. TikTok enables people to make money from their videos, facilitating higher engagement.

(Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint)
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(Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint)

What are ByteDance’s investments in India?

ByteDance invested $25 million in news aggregator DailyHunt in 2016. The firm launched its live-streaming app Vigo Video in 2017. It launched TikTok in India the same year.

Why has the video app courted controversy?

There are two factors behind the controversies TikTok finds itself in India: its popularity surge in quick time and private data going to a Chinese firm. A public interest litigation filed against ByteDance this year accused it of spreading violence, pornography and blasphemy via its app. Arguably, there’s a social bias in some of the rage against TikTok videos made by people from the lower strata. There’s ambiguity over who owns the content on TikTok: ByteDance claims rights over it, while also claiming it is an intermediary.

How has the parent company responded?

ByteDance said it would store data belonging to Indians on servers kept in India. It has promised to set up data centres for this by the end of next year. In April, it promised to invest $1 billion in India over three years and also quadruple its headcount to 1,000 by December. It has partnered bodies such as the government-run Indian Institute of Mass Communication to train people on aspects such as safe and responsible use of the internet, fighting misinformation online and how to ensure a positive online environment.

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