War of the video platforms

YouTube has become the Establishment and TikTok the upstart that is being denigrated for giving play to content created by people who are less sophisticated and urbane. The fight is getting nasty 

The pandemic has thrown India, like the rest of humanity, into a great crisis. It is an unprecedented challenge not only for the medical community but for migrant workers, as they struggle to reach home. But on social media, a fiery debate is raging that only netizens are tuned into: YouTube versus Tiktok.

This preoccupation may seem absurd to an outsider who is not a heavy consumer of social media feeds. But the debate is virulent enough to be debilitating and unsettling. And maybe a welcome escape from the harsh realities of the real world.

The video platform TikTok, which allows creation of user-generated content on an app, is owned by Chinese company Bytedance. It has always been on the radar of some netizens although it is primarily democratic, in the sense that its algorithms are designed in a way that give everyone an opportunity to become famous. They meanest criticism aimed at  TikTokkers is that they are dumb, ugly and have no talent.

The attacks do not come from random netizens, it has become a battle in which YouTubers are gunning for TikTokkers. Frequently leading the charge is famous YouTuber Carryminati, who has time and again made videos roasting TikTokkers.

The YouTube vs TikTok line-up took shape when YouTuber Elvish Yadav made a video which was a roast of TikTokkers on his YouTube channel. He compared young video-makers to ragpickers. He questioned their intelligence and made fun of girls wearing make-up.

That roast video was unremarkable but it matched the sentiments of people who believe that TikTok is somewhat downmarket in terms of content–and it garnered 8.5 million views. In response, two TikTokkers Amir Siddiqui and Revolver Rani took umbrage, slashing out at Yadav’s comments on TikTok and Instagram.

The responses exploded, bringing supporters of both communities in direct confrontation with each other. It reached its zenith when a young YouTuber, Ajay Nagar aka Carryminati made a roast video in which the opening line was: “Fark nahi padta tumahara swad khatta hai ya meetha, tum star ban sakte ho” (It doesn’t matter whether your taste is sour or sweet, you can become a star).

The word ‘meetha’ (sweet) is used for gays in a derisive sense. The video had garnered around 80 million views before YouTube took it down.

After that, various trends started to dominate on social media platforms. Nagar made a video clarifying his statements saying his comments must be understood in a certain context and that people wrongly interpreted them. YouTubers like Ashish Chanchlani, Bhuvan Bam, Harsh Beniwal came out in his support.

Some of the lines users found objectionable were, “Mithai ki dukaan pe 200 mein bik jaaoge” (You’ll be sold at a sweet shops for Rs 200); “Shakalaka boom boom ki pencil ki tarah dikhte ho” (You look like a Shakalaka boom boom pencil).

The truth is that TikTokkers sometimes cross the boundaries of what is morally acceptable.Recently, a TikTok influencer named Faizal Siddiqui sparked outrage on social media by a video which seems to be promoting acid attacks on women. In the video, Faizal is seen throwing liquid on the face of a woman who betrayed him. It plays, “Usne tumhe chod diya jiske liya tumne mujhe choda thha”, (The guy broke your heart for whom you left me) and then throws the liquid on the girl’s face.

The video was later snipped and shared. In the uncut version, Siddiqui was seen drinking that water first, then throwing it on the women. Still, the video was outrageous.

National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma took cognisance after BJP leader Tajinder Pal Bagga tweeted this video. Sharma said, “I am of the strong opinion that this @TikTok_IN should be banned totally and will be writing to GoI. It not only has these objectionable videos but is also pushing youngsters towards unproductive life where they are living only for few followers and even dying when no. Decline.” She tweeted.

In response, TikTok India gave the following clarification: “Our terms of service and community guidelines clearly outline what is and is not acceptable on our platform. We expect our users to adhere to these policies at all times.” It also took down some of the objectionable content and suspended the accounts of those who had uploaded them.

VICE in 2018 published an article with the headline “TikTok has a Nazi problem” it assessed the content on TikTok app in America and found it to be promoting white supremacy and nazism.

In India too, TikTok has been questioned for misogynistic content and even banned for allegedly promoting child pornography. The ban was lifted by the Madras High Court.

TikTok has many underage ugers but technically, it does not allow children under the age of 13 to use it. A lot of content is clearly not for kids. When we saw some of the videos on the app, they were certainly cringeworthy. In a one video, two kids were lip syncing a joke with double meaning.

At a subliminal level, the YouTube vs TikTok debate is marred by class bias and homophobia.Many journalists and commentators who closely follow TikTokkers believe that this app is the Shudra of social media. People look at creators on TikTok through a class prism.

The popular YouTuber Elvish Yadav made a video which was a roast of TikTokkers

True to this perception, during this whole TikTok vs YouTube debate, netizens were seen addressing TikTokkers with terms like ragpickers, Chapriwala (living in slums), ugly and what-not.

TikTokkers belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who don’t fit certain standards of beauty, are the target of offensive comments. Since many of these people come from lower class backgrounds, the medium gives them an opportunity to assert themselves.

Rishi Raj, an LGBTQIAP+ rights activist, on his Instagram handle (the.chick.maharani), has expressed outrage over such videos. He said that the ease with which people on social media uses terms like ‘chhakka, meetha’, that promote queer phobia, is reprehensible. “It is the same ideology that criminalises homosexual behaviour.”

The LGBTQ community was freed of legal restrictions after the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality after declaring Section 377 of IPC unconstitutional. They are now asserting their rights through various mediums. The design of TikTok is such that it helps these people to create content showcasing their talent.

TikTok challenges the monopoly

During TikTok vs YouTube debate, supporters of each community were boasting about brands and events that their platform gets. It is obvious that YouTube is an old medium with high brand value, so this fight was bogus. TikTok came later to challenge the monopoly of other social media platforms.

When you watch a video on TikTok, you can make a video on the same soundtrack by tapping a button on the screen. Another tap helps you in editing and it also has a timer, which makes it easy to record a video for you. You can imitate or creatively act out a scene to make it funnier. TikTok is very user-friendly. It does not demand technical proficiency.

TikTok is therefore a highly democratised set-up. Anyone with a smartphone can use it and create content that leaves its impact on others. These videos go viral, giving popularity to many labourers, factory workers and village folk. Nobody can deny that.

In contrast, the YouTube stage does not offer a level playing field for content creators who are less privileged and not so well connected.

Aditi Vashistha, a researcher in political science says, “Women in western Rajasthan, labourers of Bihar, middle class housewives are TikTok consumers and creators. It is obvious that some of the upper class YouTubers are feeling threatened because their monopoly over content is being challenged. TikTok challenges the very cinematic aesthetics like camera movement, cinematography in movies. On YouTube these aesthetics also don’t matter but it has certain elements that require preparation to execute it, while on TikTok cinematic aesthetics takes a backstage.”

With China phobia growing, another factor may get thrown into this volatile mix, with the tide turning against TikTok because it is run by a Chinese company.

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