Tag: Online child Protection

The TikTok ban : Why the ban may fail to prevent online victimization of women

by Dr.Debarati Halder

Image credit: Google

On 24th April Madras High court would decide on the plea of Bytedance, which owns TikTok regarding the much talked about ban of the app. Tik Tok, , a nongaming app launched in 2019 has given a tough competition in regard to its popularity to all the social media giants because of the unique features  which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects. Teenagers and adults  in India loved the app because unlike other social media platforms including YouTube, TikTok has simple features to upload and publish videos. Unlike PubG however, this did not necessarily have gaming features.

In early April, 2019, the Madurai bench of Madras High court had in an interim order directed the government stakeholders in the State and Centre to ban the video app TikTok as the Public Interest Litigation in this regard emphasized that it encourages pornography and underage users are vulnerable to be exposed to sexually explicit contents, pornography etc, which may not be good for their mental and physical health.[1] Incidentally the Madurai Bench of the Madras High court was the first court in India to take suo motu cognizance in BlueWhale game case and asked the Central government and the social media website, web companies like Google etc to monitor what is being generated and catered to the users through their platform.[2] But in this case, the situation stands on a different platform: consequent to the interim order, Google and Apple removed TikTok app  from their Play Stores.  Resultant, Bytedance had incurred huge loss. But the later has now challenged this interim order on the ground that the interim order was passed on the basis of ex parte hearing. The company had stated that the app allows users to create videos and circulate them for fun and amusement and it does not pose any threat to security of individuals. Bytedance also stated that such bans are against right to speech and expression.[3]

We can see here two important points:

First : before the governments took prohibitory actions (like what happened for PubG ban in Gujarat, where police started arresting those who downloaded and played PubG even after the ban order was conveyed to the public)[4], Web company like Google  and phone and software manufacturing company Apple had followed the mandates of S.79 (exemption of liability of intermediary in certain cases) and Rule 3 of  Information technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rule, 2011 : specially mentionable are Rules 3(3) and 3(4) which states as follows:

Rule 3(3) states that The intermediary shall not knowingly host or publish any information or shall not initiate the transmission, select the receiver of transmission, and select or modify the information contained in the transmission as specified in sub-rule (2): provided that the following actions by an intermediary shall not amount to hosing, publishing, editing or storing of any such information as specified in sub-rule: (2) — (a) temporary or transient or intermediate storage of information automatically within the computer resource as an intrinsic feature of such computer resource, involving no exercise of any human editorial control, for onward transmission or communication to another computer resource; (b) removal of access to any information, data or communication link by an intermediary after such information, data or communication link comes to the actual knowledge of a person authorised by the intermediary pursuant to any order or direction as per the provisions of the Act;

And Rule 3(4) of the above rule states The intermediary, on whose computer system the information is stored or hosted or published, upon obtaining knowledge by itself or been brought to actual knowledge by an affected person in writing or through email signed with electronic signature about any such information as mentioned in sub-rule (2) above, shall act within thirty six hours and where applicable, work with user or owner of such information to disable such information that is in contravention of sub-rule (2). Further the intermediary shall preserve such information and associated records for at least ninety days for investigation purposes.

These companies apparently did not want to invite any more troubles like the past when they were repeatedly called by the court to explain why they had not taken any action to block and ban contents and materials victimizing children which are regularly shared through their platforms.

Second: Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok has alleged that they were not heard by the court before pronouncing the ban order. Apparently, they may become the first web company to stress upon the point as why they should be banned when they have their flagging system and they do take care of the contents that are flagged. This case would make a history in India where the court has taken a decision influenced by the happenings of the past, and the concerned web company promises to break the glass ceiling because they know this is not the end. While many information as how to use (activate/download) TikTok without Google/Apple Play stores have started surfacing on internet,[5] my concern is not how the app may or may not be downloaded legally or illegally.

Exposing children to pornography, using women as items of sexual gratification, grooming, creating “dangerous contents” which may cause damage to public health, online victimization of women and children etc would not stop if one video creating and sharing app is banned. In that case, the courts must also consider picking up social media giants Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram etc, and search engines like Google for banning them because of their constant failure to monitor misogynist, sexist, child abusive contents. All social media companies including YouTube have data mined several images, contents and marked them as adult specific. Several videos are not available unless the users verify their age. But how will you search the needle in the hey stack? The courts could not yet make strict regulations for virtual age verification by the web companies. The web companies (hosted in US and other countries) are confused about the law relating to pornography because India does not have any focused law defining pornography still now. Further, the web companies also do not accept all contents (which are alleged to be porn as per Indian understanding) as offensive because the ever expanding free speech and expression jurisprudence of the US does not allow the web companies to take down the contents unless it is gravely threatening to the physical and virtual privacy  and security of the person concerned or damages the reputation of the woman (in case the victim is a woman). Children can still be exposed to online dangers through Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Women are continued to be victimized through all pockets of internet.

As such, there may be practically no solution for this and ban would encourage more law breaking. Google and Apple had already shown that they are willing to follow the local laws (or rather, not to fall in any legal tangles regarding web service providers liability). It is expected that India creates focused laws to address different emerging and existing types of online victimization and the same are implemented in proper way. Otherwise, the orders of banning may lead to ground ZERO.


[1] For more, see J.Sam Daniel (2019). Ban TikTok, Its encouraging pornography : Madras High court to Centre. Published in NDTV on April 4, 2019. URL https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/madras-high-court-directs-centre-to-prohibit-downloading-of-tik-tok-app-2017482 Accessed on 12.04.2019

[2] Halder, D.(2018) The #Bluewhale challenge to the Indian judiciary: A

critical analysis of the response of the Indian higher judiciary to risky

online contents with special reference to Bluewhale Suicide game. In

Sourdin Tania & Zariski Archie (eds.), The responsive judges. USA:Springer  ISBN no. 978-981-13-1022-5  pp 259-276.

[3] See  Live law news network (2019). TikTok Ban : SC Says Ban Will Stand Lifted If Madras HC Fails To Decide On Interim Order By April 24. Available @https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/tiktok-ban-sc-says-ban-will-stand-lifted-if-madras-hc-fails-to-decide-on-interim-order-by-april-24-144438 . Publshed in on 22nd April, 2019.  Accessed on 23rd April, 2019

[4] See Ahaskar Abhijit (2019). Why playing PUBG Mobile can get you arrested in Gujarat. Published in https://www.livemint.com/news/india/why-playing-pubg-mobile-can-get-you-arrested-in-gujarat-1552849965539.html on 18th March, 2019. Accessed on 12.04.2019

[5] For example, see SC hearing on TikTok: Why it is difficult to ban the app in India. Published in https://www.businesstoday.in/technology/internet/tiktok-ban-after-madras-hc-decision-reality-banned-apps-tiktok-pubg/story/339286.html   on April 22, 2019. Accessed on 22.04.2019