It is open season on short-video platform TikTok and social media portal Helo, both owned by Chinese tech major Bytedance, with at least five state governments, as well as the Centre, gunning for a ban on them. According to sources, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Gujarat are planning to ban the apps. The governments of Punjab and Karnataka are likely to follow suit.
Senior officials in the information technology (IT) ministry said that officials from Maharashtra, Gujarat, as well as Telangana, had “informally” got in touch with them to understand various ways to either curtail the usage of TikTok or ban it.
According to sources, these states are alarmed by the rising use of the app in smaller towns and hinterland, where it is increasingly being used for spreading hate messages and child pornography. While the company has said that it is monitoring the app to prevent such incidents and cooperating with the authorities, the state governments believe banning TikTok is a better idea in the absence of solid regulations.
“We are being approached by various state governments which fear that TikTok is promoting child pornography, as well as hate speech. There have been such incidents, and even after the company took down some of these videos, the app still has a lot of objectionable videos floating around. State governments are planning to ban it completely,” said a senior IT ministry official.
IT cells of various state governments are daily coming across various videos which they believe are highly objectionable.
“We came across a video on TikTok which shows a toddler touching his private parts and a woman laughing. We have tried working with the teams of these social media firms but such incidents continue. We strongly believe banning TikTok and similar apps is the only solution,” said a senior official of the IT Cell for the government of Telangana.
The Centre has also issued notices to TikTok and its sister app Helo with a set of 24 questions, threatening to ban them if it does not receive an appropriate response.
The action by the ministry of electronics and IT (Meity) follows a complaint by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) to the prime minister.
TikTok and Helo in a joint statement said they have plans to invest $1 billion over the next three years to develop technology infrastructure and own responsibility of the local community.
Meity has sought a reply from TikTok and Helo on the allegation that these platforms have become “a hub of anti-national activities”. The IT ministry has also asked explanation from Helo on the allegation that it has paid a huge sum to other media platforms for putting 11,000 morphed political ads on social media sites.
It has raised concern over the violation of child privacy and entry age of 13 years being set by these platforms to enrol users even as a person below the age of 18 years is considered a child in India.
On the other hand, TikTok and Helo in the joint statement said that they are grateful for the immense support given by India’s growing digital community. “Our continued success in India will not be possible without the support of our local community. We take our responsibilities to this community seriously and welcome this opportunity to fully collaborate with the government to meet and exceed our obligations,” the statement said. India is one of the strongest markets for TikTok
In April, too, the IT ministry had asked Google and Apple to take off TikTok from their app stores, following an order by the Madras High Court to ban the app.