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Indonesia bans Chinese short video app Tik Tok after public uproar

Indonesia is at it again, blocking the Tik Tok app in the country.

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| Screenshot from Tik Tok.

Tik Tok, as it is known outside of China, a popular Chinese short video and music video app, faces yet another ban in Indonesia on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Jakarta Post, an English language newspaper in Indonesia.

This came in the wake of Indonesia netizens’ joint efforts to petition for the government to push for the ban.

The Communications and Information Ministry said in a written statement on Tuesday that the ministry has decided to block Tik Tok upon hearing that the app contained ‘’pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy’’ materials.

The Ministry’s minister, Rudiantara also said: ‘’I am not worried to be deemed ‘trigger-happy’ upon blocking numerous platforms after my decision to block the Tik Tok app’’.  He further claims that the bans on controversial social media platforms in the country are for the common good of society.

Following the ban, Tik Tok’s management team paid a visit to the CIM on the afternoon of Wednesday, in an effort to communicate with the Ministry for a ban lifting. According to a Chinese media report citing people with knowledge of the matter, the regulatory body was willing to lift the ban provided Tik Tok manages to remove all inappropriate content and tighten its control over content.

Currently, Tik Tok employs a team of around 30 people managing the flood of videos uploaded to its website every day.

 

A long list

This move is unsurprising, given Indonesia’s demographics, made up of a Muslim majority and a relatively conservative base.

Even US-based movie and TV streaming platform Netflix was not spared, as it  was said to be blocked after entering Indonesia in 2016 with shows like Orange is the New Black, a TV programme depicting homosexuality, nudity, and violence.

Similarly, back in May 2014, video-sharing platform, Vimeo was hit as well when it was highlighted as a way for people to watch pornography. However, the block was lifted a few months later when a new administration was elected.

Yahoo-owned blogging site Tumblr was also affected earlier this March when it seemed to have been blocked again, apparently “in accordance with provisions set by Telkomsel according to the Menkominfo”, tweeted Telkomsel, a local telco provider, referring to the Ministry of Communication and Information.

An app like Instagram, however, has done well in Indonesia, with no ban in sight, even though it works just like Tik Tok, Vimeo and Tumblr. Perhaps Instagram could thank its popularity for that, having reportedly more than 45 million users in Indonesia, as of 2017.

While the Tik Tok app can still be downloaded, users no longer have access to its short videos. This move might be reversed only after Tik Tok sanitizes its contents.

 

Tik Tok’s conundrum

Tik Tok has had phenomenal success since its humble beginnings in China as Douyin towards the end of 2016. Allegedly built in 200 days, it very quickly outperformed its competitors such as Tencent-backed Kuaishou and is last ranked the most downloaded iOS app for Q1 2018 according to Sensor Tower, a U.S research firm. It accumulated up to more than 45 million downloads within the first three months of this year – beating even Facebook’s Whatsapp.

As of this month, Tik Tok together with Musical.ly, the overseas-oriented Douyin, operates in 150 countries, boasting of at least 100 million monthly active users.

Still, the lethally addictive app has faced many naysayers, not just an isolated case in Indonesia.

Douyin, Tik Tok’s Chinese version, for instance, is currently in lawsuits with Tencent, accusing the latter of blocking its short videos in the name of inappropriate content.

The compelling app was also forced to add ‘anti-addiction’ notification in April this year.

In Hong Kong as well, Douyin was criticised over the lack of privacy settings to protect its young users as opposed to other social media platforms like Facebook, according to the South China Morning Post.

Indeed, like the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, when a social media firm enjoys its exponential scale up success, new problems and responsibilities will arise with the ‘new found fame’.

Data protection and responsible user content could be some of the growing issues these social media giants have to solve going forward. Maybe it is time for the powerful algorithm that picks up user habits that drives its meteoric rise to be used to also ensure more ‘quality’ content, together with their intensifying fight to remain as the ‘top’ social media app.

In China at least, Tencent’s Weishi has been revived to rival Douyin, making the battle more intense – not just with the usual archrival Kuaishou, and many more as it aims to become an increasingly global social media app.

Editor: Ben Jiang, Elaine Huang

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