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Supreme Court directs Madras HC to hear TikTok’s objections on interim ban

The Supreme Court has directed the Madras HC to hear the objections against its interim and ex-parte order banning TikTok, reports LiveLaw. The SC was hearing a special leave petition filed by TikTok’s owner Bytedance Technology, and posted the SLP for hearing on April 22. Bytedance has argued that it is an intermediary and therefore protected under the Safe Harbor provisions of the IT Act. Bytedance claims that only a minuscule percentage of videos on TikTok is flagged as inappropriate by users, and that the majority use it for personal entertainment and expression, and for “fun” and “amusing” videos. It is worth asking here whether user reports of violative content should equated with the actual volume of violative content; those with malicious intent and action, and those who are victims of it are least likely to report that they’re abusing the platform. This holds true for (some of the) reasons for which Madras HC imposed the ban: child pornography, pedophiles, and exposure of Children to sexual predators.

Bytedance also said that the singling out of TikTok is discriminatory and arbitrary since it is like any other platform, arguing that the ban is disproportionate and infringes upon freedom of speech and expression. CJI Ranjan Gogoi had last week refused to hear Bytedance’s SLP hearing urgently.

When contacted, Bytedance sent MediaNama the following statement:

“As per the proceedings in the Supreme Court today, the Madras High Court will hear the matter on ex parte ad interim oder. The Supreme Court has listed the matter again for April 22, 2019, to be apprised of the outcome of the hearing on the April 16th, 2019 before the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court. At TikTok, we have faith in the Indian Judicial system and the stipulations afforded to social media platforms by the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011.

We are committed to continuously enhancing our existing measures and introducing additional technical and moderation processes as part of our ongoing commitment to our users in India. In line with this, we have been stepping up efforts to take down objectionable content. To date, we have removed over 6 million videos that violated our Terms of Use and Community Guidelines, following an exhaustive review of content generated by our users in India.”

(emphasis ours)

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TikTok has indeed removed over 6 million videos (since July 2018) which violated its community guidelines, it uses technology and humans for content moderation/takedowns; and its team includes moderators for major Indian languages – Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati. It has also introduced an age-gate feature for new users; only children aged 13 years and above to create an account. It is unclear how the platform will implement this.

TikTok’s American age limit: how is the under-13 requirement enforced?

TikTok recently cracked down on American users younger than 13 years after reaching a settlement with US Federal Trades Commission, which had filed a case against the platform for violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The regulator said TikTok violated children’s privacy by requiring them to provide extensive personal information; and failing to protect children’s privacy since all user accounts were public by default.

Right after the settlement, TikTok began to ask users for their dates of birth, and purged – without warning – accounts and videos of users who were below 13 years of age. It also deleted videos of users who mistakenly entered the wrong birthday. Although it appeared like TikTok asked for government IDs from users as proof of age, it isn’t clear how this was carried out for everyone and whether they verified if users are, in fact, 13 years or older. TikTok also began directing children under 13 to a “younger ecosystem” within the app, which prohibits users from uploading videos or commenting on posts. Even the section is curated keeping under 13 age in mind.

Neighbours block TikTok to rid their nations of porn

In February, the Bangladesh government blocked thousands of sites and apps to rid the country pornography – among them was TikTok. The crackdown was launched after Bangladesh’s apex court asked the government in November to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic forms for six months.

Its worth noting TikTok was banned in Indonesia for a week in July last year for featuring allegedly pornographic and blasphemous content. The ban was reversed after TikTok agreed to clear “all negative content” from the app, and opened an office in Indonesia to liaise with the government over content. It also placed additional restrictions on users aged between 14-18 years, and increased security mechanisms. TikTok reportedly promised to set up a team of 20 censors to monitor and sanitise content in Indonesia.

More on why TikTok’s ban in India is problematic: Why the Madras High Court’s interim ban on enabling download of Tik Tok is worrying

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