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There Are No Winners in the YouTube vs TikTok War

By Nikhil Taneja 25 May 2020

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It’s been two weeks since YouTuber CarryMinati and TikTok star Amir Siddiqui publicly beefed on the internet, leading to online clashes between fans of the two platforms that—ironically—largely took place on Instagram and Twitter. The controversy revolves around a roast video uploaded by CarryMinati, titled Youtube vs TikTok – The End, which reached over 70 million views before being taken down by YouTube for violating the platform’s terms of service. That’s where things should have ended, but the beef has continued to escalate, with many now calling for TikTok to be banned. As someone whose career really began after producing some of the first YouTube web series in India, I’d like to explain how this ‘battle of the platforms’ is completely misguided.

In our country, for the longest time, content has always been a product of means. If you have money, you have been able to make content. Bollywood operated entirely on that basis. It was a bunch of rich people who controlled Bollywood, only allowing people with connections to become a part of their insider circle. It’s now being called nepotism, but earlier it was just called power. Power was the reason that people had to go to Mumbai and stand in long lines outside production houses or auditions to get discovered. Because of this gatekeeping, it was rare for people from outside of Mumbai to make it in “the industry”.

When the internet revolution happened—and YouTube came into the picture—everything changed. You didn’t need to be in Mumbai to be discovered, you could create your own content and build an audience from anywhere in the country or the world. You didn’t need a producer or a studio to come in between you and the audience – if you were good and talented, the audience came to you. The internet democratised content and with it, democratised self-expression. There was no censor to what you could express, or how you chose to express it. YouTube gave every individual power, and that was beautiful. 

But today YouTube has power – and not everybody can “just be a YouTuber”. Getting discovered on YouTube means beating algorithms and millions of other people pushing out their own content. Even being on YouTube now means putting up at least a certain level of well-produced or incredibly unique content, which requires a basic understanding of production, editing and knowledge of content creation. And so, with the power that YouTube now enjoys, it is a pity that now YouTubers or YouTube fans and the rest of us are looking down on TikTok, the way Bollywood once used to look down on YouTube.

This is, by no means, a defense of #TikTok. There’s certainly some inappropriate—even horrifying—content on it, but that’s hardly unique for a social media platform. I mean there are literal sexual harassment pranks on YouTube, not to forget all the Nazi content. Most social media platforms are cesspools of hate, because our society is a cesspool of hate. But while we choose to focus on the more positive aspects when it comes to other platforms, why don’t we extend the same courtesy to TikTok? The answer is our class privilege.

The internet democratised content and with it, democratised self-expression. There was no censor to what you could express, or how you chose to express it.

TikTok is considered a platform for ‘cringe’ content not because most of the content is inappropriate (it isn’t), but because most of it features people outside of the class, caste, community, religion and privilege circles we come from. It’s not just that we don’t understand that content, it’s that we don’t live that life – so when we find it ‘cringe’, we are looking down not just on the content, but also those lived realities.

Most social media apps so far have had a social hierarchy: first the privileged use it, and that’s what makes it ‘cool’. Then the middle class uses it, that’s what makes it ‘massy’. But when it is finally used by the lesser privileged sections of society, it becomes ‘cringe’. Tik Tok is perhaps one of the only platforms that became successful because it was accessible to everyone: you didn’t need to have an expensive phone or editing software on your laptop or even the kind of artistic understanding that we call ‘talent’, because, again, it is familiar to us. 

TikTok allows common, regular, ordinary people to let their hair down and have a bit of fun. It is a privilege-agnostic platform. And that’s why, in my opinion, it is invaluable. Because we cannot gate-keep or judge who gets to create and who gets to express themselves. Content creation is not a monopoly of the rich and self-expression is not the birth-right of the privileged. Just because something isn’t ‘cool’ according to our standards, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. When we judge the young people on TikTok, we need to judge the society that conditions them.

In asking to ban TikTok, we are infringing on the rights of everyone getting to express themselves equally. And I really find that unfortunate. If there are problems, then we should regulate the platform instead. And while we’re at it, regulate all the platforms. Let’s stop the hate groups on Facebook, the rape threats on Twitter, the boys locker rooms on Instagram, the sexual harassment on YouTube. Why is TikTok being singled out? Just because they don’t wear the same designer brands as us?

To make TikTok content better, we need to make society better! Let’s make sure that young people with lesser privilege aren’t conditioned to look at violence against women and harassment lightly. But that requires hard work. The easy way: Let’s look away, and ban TikTok? Sigh.

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