Pushing For Facebook, YouTube And Twitter To Ban Hate Speech Won't Stop It From Migrating Elsewhere
from the there's-a-larger-problem dept
Remember a year ago when lots of people were blaming WhatsApp for violence in India, and demanding that there needed to be new laws passed to deal with WhatsApp? Well, if the actual problem is societal, it’s not much going to matter how you target a particular platform. Wired now has an article talking about another, super popular platform, TikTok, and arguing that it is “fuelling India’s deadly hate speech epidemic.” This, of course, is the same language that was used to discuss WhatsApp over the past few years.
TikTok, as you may know, is the rapidly growing newish social media platform that is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance. Of course, its rapid rise in popularity should already challenge the narrative that the big social media platforms — Facebook (along with Instagram and WhatsApp), YouTube, and Twitter — are so dominant that it’s impossible for new entrants to make a play. But, even more importantly, it shows that if the problem everyone is debating is a societal one, blaming the service providers in the middle for not magically stopping societal problems is not helpful. These problems will just keep appearing on each successive platform.
During June and July, WIREDidentified more than 500 examples of caste-based hate, threats, violence and ridicule attacking different communities within the Tamil language on TikiTok. Users extol the virtues of specific castes and verbally attack local caste-leaders, which can trigger hate crimes.
India?s caste structure is a feudal system of social division stratifying people into hierarchical groups based on their background and work. These include: priests, warriors, farmers/traders, labourers and outcasts. Dalits, formerly the ?untouchables,? fall outside the system and are widely persecuted.
Videos found on TikTok include casteist-hate speech posted by users identifying themselves from high castes while celebrating and singing the praises of their communities. These quickly spill into threats of physical violence with members of some communities claiming dominance over other castes.
This is, quite obviously, an issue, but it seems like it’s a much bigger issue regarding the “caste structure” of Indian society, rather than a platform like TikTok or WhatsApp. But, of course, it appears that people — including courts and lawmakers — find it much easier to just blame the messaging app, rather than the underlying societal issues it shines a light on:
Social divisions have run deep in India for centuries. But, the advent of easy-to-use video platforms, messaging apps and low mobile data limits, has seen hate speech targeting marginalised communities thrive. In April, police arrested a 21-year-old for uploading a caste-based video on TikTok that could have sparked communal unrest. And in another case, nine people were arrested for uploading a video inciting caste violence and potential public disorder.
The problems created by TikTok haven?t gone unnoticed by lawmakers either. In April, a court ruling in Tamil Nadu ? the region where Vijay died ? said the app was spreading ?pornographic? and other ?inappropriate? content. As a result, Google and Apple took the largely unprecedented step to remove TikTok from their app stores at the request of the Indian court system. TikTok was only reinstated after more than six million videos were purged from the app.
?TikTok is wreaking havoc on societies and villages in Tamil Nadu,? says lawyer K Neelamegam, who argued in favour of the TikTok ban in April. ?It is extremely dangerous and playing an active part in disrupting peaceful functioning of our lives?. One Indian state information technology minister has also said TikTok is ?degrading culture? and is ?inimical to law and order?. And, India?s IT Ministry has threatened TikTok with a further ban for how it handles data and ?anti-Indian? activity. It has demanded ByteDance answer a list of 24 questions about how it works.
Note that exactly none of this concern is focused on the Indian caste system itself, or the reasons for why such angry and inflammatory speech spreads so quickly. There are arguments to be made that these apps might increase the distribution power of such speech, and therefore have a larger impact, but no one seems to be discussing that. They really all seem to be blaming the apps for actually shining a light on the underlying issues, discrimination, and bigotry inherent in the caste system.
It is, of course, way easier to blame a new technology that a societal issue that dates back centuries, but it does little to fix any of the problems. Should TikTok be banned in India, such hatred will just move on to the next such platform, and the same people will clench their fists and whine about those as well, without ever bothering to explore why the hatred is happening in the first place.