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TikTok and controversies of the Chinese origin app: A timeline of key events

Written by Anuj Bhatia
| New Delhi |

Updated: June 30, 2020 12:55:55 pm

tiktok, tiktok banned in india, india bans tiktok, tiktok chinese app, tiktok chinese apps banned, tiktok short form video platform, Beijing-based startup ByteDance is best-known for its short video platform — TikTok. The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally.
TikTok is set to lose its biggest international market with over 100 million users as the Indian government has banned the Chinese app. Apart from TikTok, the Ministry of Information Technology on Monday banned 58 other Chinese origin mobile apps over security issues. TikTok, operated by Chinese tech company ByteDance, allows users to create short videos lip-syncing to music. The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally.

Explained: How will the ban of TikTok and other Chinese apps be enforced; what will be the impact?

In a statement, the ministry said the apps were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The move to ban a total of 59 Chinese-made apps comes amid the growing tensions between India and China over their disputed Himalayan border that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

As TikTok grew in popularity in India and other markets, the app also drew a lot of criticism, mainly from the lawmakers. Here’s a long list of controversies that rocked the most controversial social media app on the market.

September 2016: TikTok, known as Douyin in its home market, was launched in China.

September 2017: Douyin expanded outside of China under a new name — TikTok. This short video app quickly rose in popularity in Indonesia and other Asian markets.

November 2017: TikTok got a massive kick in the US when ByteDance decided to buy, an app that focused on 15-second lip-syncing music videos, for $1 billion. was already popular in the US when ByteDance acquired the app.

July 2018: TikTok was banned in Indonesia for containing “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy”. Though the ban on the app was later lifted, TikTok had already come under the radar of Indonesia authorities for “inappropriate content.”

August 2018: ByteDance announced it would be shutting down and merging it with TikTok.

October 2018: A 24-year old Chennai man allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of a train after being mocked for wearing women’s clothes on TikTok.

November 2018: TikTok reached over 800 million monthly active users, making it one of the top social media platforms in the world.

January 2019: S Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi party in Tamil Nadu state, had reportedly asked the state government to ban TikTok as he argued that the app distracts youngsters and leads to sexual perversity.

February 2019: M Manikandan, Tamil Nadu’s minister of IT, said his state will ask the central government to ban TikTok for “degrading culture and encouraging pornography.” During the same month, a college student died, and two of his friends were severely injured, after their motorcycle rammed into a truck while making a TikTok video.
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Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a $5.7 million to settle accusations that it violated children’s privacy. TikTok was accused of allegedly illegally collecting the private information of children using the app.

April 2019: Madurai-based senior lawyer Muthu Kumar filed a plea in the Madras high court to ban TikTok citing pornographic content and exposure of children to sensitive content. Back then, TikTok had reportedly 54 million active users in India.

Three days later, the Madras high court demanded the central government to ban the app and prohibit the media from using any content created on TikTok.

On April 12, TikTok responded by removing six million videos for not complying with its community guidelines.

On April 13, a 19-year-old Delhi resident was accidentally shot dead by his friend while posing with a pistol for a TikTok video during a car ride. On April 15, the Supreme Court refused to stay the Madras high court’s ban on TikTok on grounds that it is temporary and the matter is still being heard at the high court.

And on April 18, TikTok was pulled down from the Play Store and App Store. The ban lasted for two weeks.

May 2019: TikTok was back on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store a week after the Madras High Court lifted a stay on downloads of the app.

September 2019: TikTok was severely criticized for censoring Hong Kong protest videos on the app. It was alleged that TikTok was censoring content related to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to appease the Chinese government. TikTok refuted those allegations by issuing a public statement where it said it does not censor Hong Kong protest-related content. That matter gained a lot of steam internationally when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg slammed China for its censorship laws.
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October 2019: A Guardian investigation revealed that TikTok reportedly censored LGBTQ+ content in countries like Turkey where homosexuality has never been illegal.

November 2019: The United States launched a national security review into TikTok’s parent company Beijing-based ByteDance over its 2017’s acquisition of social media app It was alleged that TikTok did not go through a CFIUS review when it acquired, an American company. Senator Tom Cotton raised his voice by saying that TikTok could also be used for targeting by foreign influence campaigns, like those carried out in the 2016 US presidential election.

December 2019: The United States Army banned TikTok from government-issued smartphones for security reasons. According to a New York Times report, an Army spokesperson called TikTok a cyber threat. During the same month, the US Navy also banned TikTok from government devices.

March 2020: Two Republican senators, Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida, proposed a bill to ban all federal employees from using TikTok on their government-issued device. TikTok officials have repeatedly said the user data from the United States is not stored in China, and the communist country does not have jurisdiction over content outside China.

Meanwhile, a report from The Intercept revealed that TikTok instructed its moderators to “suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor or disabled for the platform.” According to the report, moderators were also told to censor political speech and publish those who harmed “national honor” or broadcast streams about “state organs such as police” with bans from the platform.
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May 2020: TikTok was in the news for all the wrong reasons after a face-off between a TikTok star and Youtube influencer. The app’s rating came down to 1 start on Google Play Store following a trend to #bantiktok on Twitter. The trend to ban TikTok started when a popular TikTok star Faisal Siddiqui posted a TikTok video endorsing acid attacks on women. That led to users downrating the app on the Google Play Store and calling for its ban in India. While TikTok may have gained a sizable following in India, the app continues to be questioned over poor content moderation.

In the midst of a crisis over its content moderation policies in India, TikTok named Disney’s head of streaming Kevin Mayer as COO of ByteDance and TikTok. Hiring Mayer will help ByteDance to win over Washington who has targeted popular social media app as a security threat.

June 2020: TikTok has been banned for the second time in India. This time though, TikTok has been banned along with 58 other apps, mostly Chinese. Following the order, TikTok was removed by Apple and Google from the Play Store and App Store.

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