India is forever ready with calls for bans. Films, books, games, whatever gets one or the other group’s goat (rightly or wrongly) must be banned. But, calls for bans from laymen and political (“cultural”) outfits is one thing, a High Court (HC) asking for one is another. The Madras HC has asked the Centre to ban TikTok, the video sharing platform because it “encourages pornography and exposes children to sexual predators”. While TikTok is seemingly more popular with younger users—it is age restricted though, with 13 years being the threshold for users—and thus more likely to be used for exploitation of children by predators, the fact is that any social media/online messaging service is similarly vulnerable. And this has been so since the times of Yahoo chatrooms et al.
The High Court’s call for a ban on TikTok isn’t the first time that the platform has faced such censure—China and Bangladesh, indeed, banned it as did Indonesia. The latter reversed the ban when the company behind the platform agreed to set up a team to screen all video content on the platform. The fact is a ban doesn’t work if the aim is to create a safe and responsible place online for all stakeholders involved. What is being done via TikTok can very well be done through other platforms. Banning one or the other platform will only cause the predators to shift to the next one. To be sure, it is the authorities’ remit to decide how best to curb the exploitation of children online, through a platform like TikTok. Platform-specific action won’t work, the challenge will be to identify the right method to clamp down on the perils of such media. Perhaps, India could learn from Indonesia on this and get the company to self-regulate.