CHENNAI: The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday urged the Central government to ban TikTok. It said that children who were using the video-sharing app were vulnerable to exposing themselves to sexual predators. While content creators and viewers of the app may be surrounded by a pall of gloom, CE looks at how it is not just TikTok, but a wider issue that needs to take precedence — the complete lack of adequate checks on all these platforms to ensure age-appropriate content.
“I love TikTok,” cried 12-year-old Manish Kumar*, a student at a city school. “I come back from school and finish my homework quickly so that I can see what my friends have put up on TikTok. We make videos of our favourite movie dialogues and do dance videos. It is so much fun! I hope they do not ban it, I will be sad. But if it is banned, I will just put all videos on Instagram then.”
Children are exposed to an array of options to when it comes to social media and video sharing. The app store throws up more names, besides popular ones like Facebook or Instagram.
Verify before use
“Many of these apps have age criteria but there is no verification done to ensure that the person is above the permissible age,” said cyber psychologist Nirali Bhatia. “Service providers need to be held accountable and right now they are not. This move will send out a strong message to service providers that action will be taken if they are not mindful.”
On an app like TikTok, users become more vulnerable as it is a platform that is designed for people to have public profiles, create a fan base and collaborate with multiple people.
“There is a risk involved with the usage of any app,” said counselling psychologist Sneha Hindocha. “I suppose the risk is larger when it comes to exposure to sexual predators with an app like TikTok as the people would have public profiles, keeping their content open for public viewing and sharing, which can be a bigger gateway for them to be victims of sexual predatory. While Instagram may have the option to keep an account private and hence control who can view your profile, how much are we looking at privacy when we sign up to be on these apps? There is enough and more explicit content easily available on Instagram for anyone who comes across it or goes searching for it.”
Social media validation has become an integral part of growing up in today’s times. “Everyone wants to be popular today,” said Bhatia. “Children fall prey to cyber bullying via the comments received to their posts. Children’s self-worth is largely dependent on what their followers think of them on these apps. In this scenario, it is silly for parents to think that keeping them away from the Internet is an option. Rather, they should look at having an open conversation with their children about the risks involved with being on different apps and educate them. For this, parents need to know about the apps themselves. They need to try using them and see where there are loopholes because almost all these apps are dangerous. There is no excuse for not being a digitally literate parent today.”
Take time out Psychologists also spoke about the importance of providing positive reinforcement, recognition and spending quality time with your children at home.
“There is a tendency for people to be active on these apps in a bid to seek attention as they may be starved of it at home and among friends. Many of them also question who will appreciate them singing or dancing at home, but when they see that the same song or dance when put online gains some traction, it becomes validation. Parents must encourage their children and be their friends. Even when making a video, parents should try and be a part of it so that it becomes a way to bond while also being a way to have an idea of what is being put out,” said Hindocha.
There is also a raging debate on the effectiveness of banning an app as new apps spring up with similar features in a jiffy.
“While banning a particular app may reduce the circulation of content it hosts to some extent, it is not a long-term solution,” said Salman Waris, managing partner and head of technology practice at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors. “Most of these applications are hosted out of servers in China or outside India. Section 75 of the IT Act provides extra-territorial jurisdiction... However, it is proper enforcement of existing laws that is the actual solution and maybe not banning itself.”
He went on to add that the IT Intermediary Liability Rules, and under the telecom - Unified License Regime, there are clear provisions on circulation of objectionable content where all intermediaries are required to observe due diligence and clearly lay that down as part of their user agreement.
“Additionally, Section 67 in the IT Act, 2000 lays down the ‘Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form’ at the imprisonment of up to three years and with fine which may extend to `5 lakh,” he said.*Names changed on request
What does the law say?
Salman Waris, managing partner and head of technology practice at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors said that the IT Intermediary Liability Rules, and under the telecom - Unified License Regime, there are clear provisions on circulation of objectionable content where all intermediaries are required to observe due diligence and clearly lay that down as part of their rules and regulations, terms and conditions or user agreement for access or usage.