Sumanti Sen is an English Literature graduate who believes "there's just one kind of folks. Folks.".
If you ask your older generations ─ your grandparents or your parents ─ how you should spend your time judiciously if you are ever locked up in a room, they would give you countless ideas. In times as trying as these, amid the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, we could indeed do with a couple of suggestions.
Let us for a moment travel back to our grandparents' time and imagine that this pandemic is then ravaging the country. Most of the time, you would find your grandparents between the pages of an old classic or a magazine or maybe a newspaper.
This, however, would not sound like a very interesting idea to the current generation with the plethora of social media apps that have taken over novels. One cannot deny that Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds feed us with little knowledge these days, but rather make an attempt to bring a different kind of entertainment in our lives.
TikTok videos showing individuals dancing to Bollywood songs and syncing lips with movie dialogues are the most common sight to behold these days, especially in the time of lockdown when people are looking for ways to kill time.
However, the content of TikTok as well as other less talked-about vernacular social media apps is not as innocent as it may look from the outside. These platforms offering viral video content in vernacular languages are a source of distraction for the youth, especially minors, for all the wrong reasons.
These apps provide content which is borderline sexual and derogatory. Content that are lewd, pornographic or have sexual undertones can be detrimental to a minor's mental health. In the minds of young, first-time internet users, especially, it sets the wrong precedent of social interaction.
Google and App Inc had removed TikTok after a ban from the Play store and App Store. However, the ban was later lifted.
TikTok cannot be blamed alone for viral, inappropriate content. An app called Nonolive (iOS/Android, Free), with over 2,00,000 reviews on Play Store and more than 10 million downloads, is described as a 'game live streaming and video chat' app. What is disturbing about the platform is that it shows women with their faces blurred-out with a description that says "Ladkiyon ke saath chat karein" (Chat with women through this app).
You may not have heard of Vigo Video (iOS/Android, Free), but it is an even greater threat to minors. The app claims to provide users with 'funny social videos' ─ shocking as it is, this includes videos of lap dances and fellatio. Another platform that provides similar content is called 'Likee' (iOS/Android, Free), which has more than 100 million downloads on Play Store.
'Kitty Live' (iOS/Android, Free) is another such app with a relatively fewer number of users. Set on a backdrop on ONLY women, a promotional video of the app is labeled as 'the best live streaming in Southeast Asia'.
Apps like VMateStatus and MCat are also platforms that offer obscene content.
Sexual content, however, is not the only issue with these apps. The TikTok app comes with endless, and sometimes dangerous challenges that often pose a threat to life. For instance, a 12-year-old boy from Kota, Rajasthan, hung himself from a noose in his bathroom as part of a TikTok challenge in June 2019.
A 22-year-old dancer and singer, who injured his spinal cord while performing a backflip for TikTok, died in Bengaluru's Victoria Hospital on June 23, 2019. Kumaraswamy battled for life for eight days.
While performing the stunt, Kumaraswamy of Naduvanahalli in Chikkanayakanahalli, Tumakuru lost balance, fell down and fractured his spinal cord.
These apps care little about setting an age restriction on who can access the videos. In fact, Vigo Video, Likee, Kitty Live and Nonolive are available for individuals of 12 years of age and above on Google Play Store. In comparison to Google Play Store, Likee, Kitty Live and Nonolive are restricted to users aged 17 and above on Apple's iOS App Store.
What we should be even more concerned about is that none of these apps, barring Kitty Live, requires a sign-up process. There is absolutely no filter ─ all one needs to do is download the apps and watch videos that are sexual, offensive, misleading and violent.
Studies suggest that frequent use of social network such as TikTok results in increased dissatisfaction in children over a period of time. For instance, a "makeup removal challenge" had gone viral on TikTok, with young girls posting videos showing their beauty transformations, often involving false eyelashes, colourful contact lenses, wigs and nose and chin prosthetics ─ seemingly unhappy and insecure about their natural appearance.
TikTok also contains inappropriate blasphemous and pornographic content.
If one closely inspects the videos shared on these platforms, a large number of them are set in rural or semi-urban backdrops. Assuming that those sharing the videos are genuine individuals, most of them belong to cities falling under Tier-II categories or below (population of 50,000 to 99,999 as per 2001 Census).
This hints at the fact that the target user base of these services is the country's new internet users. These individuals, seeking entertainment, are usually open to interacting with strangers and sharing their phone numbers.
As per The Changing Face of the Indian Mobile Users, a market study conducted by InMobi, roughly 40-50 percent of the country's internet users hail from rural or semi-urban backgrounds.
Addiction is dangerous. Users keep coming back to apps with content blatantly objectifying women. In fact, some of these apps, like Likee, offer locality-based recommendations, making the videos locally relevant to the users.
Besides addiction, this kind of content leads to the youth developing a socially incorrect mentality. They recommend these apps to friends, and it has now become extremely easy for young users to connect, considering the affordable prices of smartphones and data these days.
'Meeting new people' now has a whole new meaning. Forget the current difficult situation in the country, kids today, even on normal days, would rather spend hours on their phones than visit nearby parks and play with like-minded children.
The culture of reading is dead. Most children find books 'boring' and are indifferent towards gaining knowledge the old-school way ─ reading. Internet has taken over and the brittle, yellow pages of old books have ceased to spread joy.
The internet's flawless facade masks the hazard that creeps into the mind of youngsters today.
We need to build human connections, we need look up from the screen of our cell phones and engage in random conversations with like-minded strangers on busy roads. We need to promote a culture of learning and reading outside the screen of our devices.
Thank you for subscribing.
We have sent you a confirmation email.