Kunal Sarangi, a Jharkand MLA from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, has raised concerns over National Skill Development Corporation’s partnership with TikTok, flagging issues such as hate speech, alleged voter suppression and copyright issues. Sarangi, a member of the opposition in Jharkhand Legislative Assembly, voiced his concerns in a letter (see below) to Mahendra Nath Pandey, Union Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship on September 4.

Sarangi is still awaiting a response from the minister, he told MediaNama. TikTok has declined to comment.

NSDC had partnered with TikTok in July to “educate” its users about ongoing government-driven skill development programs and vocational training opportunities.

Sarangi’s concerns with TikTok

Sarangi pointed out that several members of BJP, leaders of the opposition, and also Swadeshi Jagran Manch (affiliated to Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) have raised concerns against TikTok in the past. He referred to TikTok as an organization “which is currently facing significant scrutiny in India and globally” and urged the Minister to reconsider the partnership with TikTok. Sarangi’s letter listed the following concerns:

  • FIRs against influencers: He said that various FIRs have been filed against ‘TikTok influencers’ such as Faisal Siddique and Ajaz Khan for spreading hate speech.
  • Copyright issues: TikTok has claimed to “have paid for and own copyright in large volumes of videos on their platforms” he wrote, citing an Economic Times report. He said TikTok has sent other social media companies takedown notices. Sarangi was referring to TikTok’s takedown notices to ShareChat, when ShareChat had written to the government saying that TikTok’s content takedown notices are inconsistent with its declared status as an intermediary. ShareChat and BJD MP Pinaki Mishra have asked the government to clarify the intermediary liability status of TikTok. 
  • Morphed ads: He said that TikTok advertised 11,000 morphed news/political ads on Facebook to conduct voter suppression. The 11,000 “morphed” ads Sarangi is referring to removed not from TikTok but from Helo, a platform owned by TikTok maker Bytedance. The ads were taken down by Facebook for not having a disclaimer about who the advertiser was, something which is part of Facebook’s political ads rules.
  • The ‘China’ problem: He raised concerns about TikTok’s business model and operations in India and “strongly urged the government to reconsider their partnership with the Chinese organization currently operating in this manner”. He stated that such partnerships “may create biases and negatively affect a free and fair investigation”.

People who have raised concerns over TikTok

  • In July, Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate to BJP’s ideological mentor RSS had called for a ban on TikTok. SJM claimed that a ban on TikTok would help protect the country’s national security. In its letter to PM Modi, SJM claimed that there have been various instances of deaths being caused due to TikTok across India.
  • While speaking in Lok Sabha earlier on July 4, Biju Janta Dal MP Pinaki Mishra and Jaydev Galla, a TDP MP, called for a ban on TikTok and Helo, alleging that the company was spreading fake news in India and collecting user information and data. Mishra had asked TikTok to clarify whether or not it is an intermediary, prompted by ShareChat’s removal of TikTok videos from its platform after it received copyright notices from TikTok.
  • MP Shashi Tharoor said in Lok Sabha that there were reports that the Chinese government received data from TikTok through the wholly state-owned China Telecom. He described it as a “national security issue”, and urged the government to “introduce a comprehensive legal framework to protect the fundamental right to privacy and save democracy of the country”.

Madras HC’s had briefly banned TikTok

Madras High Court had imposed a temporary ban on April 3, on the ground that the app was responsible for spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting users’ mental health. It’s worth noting that the ban only applied to ‘downloading the app’, existing users were able to continue its usage. Also, Google and Apple removed the app from their app stores on April 18 under the HC direction. Madras High Court later lifted its ban on April 24, subject to a condition that pornographic videos would not be uploaded on it.

TikTok ban in Indonesia, Bangladesh

  • TikTok was banned in Indonesia for a week in July 2018 for allegedly featuring pornographic and blasphemous content. The ban was lifted after TikTok agreed to clear “all negative content” from the app and opened an office in Indonesia to liaise with the government over the content.
  • In February, the Bangladesh government blocked thousands of sites and apps to rid the country of pornography – among these was TikTok. The crackdown was imposed after Bangladesh’s apex court had asked the government in November (2018) to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic form for six months.
In August, Tiktok partnered with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) for its campaign #WaitASecToReflect to regulate the online conduct of internet users. As part of the first phase, DEF is conduction workshops among consumers across key cities in 10 states of India.