The Hamilton Spectator

How India Adjusted to a Ban of TikTok


NEW DELHI — In India, it took TikTok just a few years to build an audience of 200 million users. India was its biggest market. Then, on June 29, 2020, the Indian government banned TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese apps, after a simmering conflict between India and China flared into violence.

A popular form of entertainm­ent vanished overnight. Now, as U.S. politician­s are wrangling over a plan that could shut access for the 170 million Americans using TikTok, the example set by India gives a foretaste of what may come.

TikTok, owned by ByteDance in Beijing, establishe­d a wide base in 2017 in dozens of India’s languages. Its content — short videos — tended to be homey and hyperlocal, with an endless scroll of homemade production­s. TikTok became a platform for entreprene­urs to build businesses.

Veer Sharma was 26 when the ban began. He had seven million followers on TikTok, where he posted videos of himself and friends lip-syncing and joking to Hindi film songs. He had barely finished formal schooling, but his TikTok achievemen­ts made him proud.

Mr. Sharma was earning 100,000 rupees, about $1,200, a month. After the ban began, he barely had time to make one last video. “Our times together will be ending soon, and I don’t know how or when we will be able to meet again,” he told fans.

“Then, I cried and cried,” he said.

Yet India soon adapted to TikTok’s absence. Meta’s Instagram swooped in with its Reels and Alphabet’s YouTube with Shorts, both TikTok-like products, and converted many of the influencer­s and viewers that had been left idle.

The services were popular. But much of the homespun charm of TikTok never found a new home, experts said. It became harder for small-time creators to be discovered.

Nikhil Pahwa, a digital policy analyst in New Delhi, said TikTok’s algorithms were “a lot more localized to Indian content” than those used by the U.S. giants that succeeded it.

Several Indian companies tried to fill the TikTok void, but America’s tech giants, with their deeper pockets and expanding global audiences, came to dominate India. The country is now the biggest market for both YouTube (almost 500 million monthly users) and Instagram (362 million).

India and China have had troops standing off at their border since 1962. In 2020, that frozen conflict turned hot. In one night of brutal hand-to-hand combat, 20 Indian soldiers were killed, along with at least four Chinese, which China never officially confirmed.

Two weeks later, India switched off TikTok. India has

now banned over 500 Chinese apps, according to Mr. Pahwa.

After the ban went into effect, the Bharatiya Janata Party — the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — reached out to Mr. Sharma, who said he had become depressed. He had already been contacted by Moj, a Bangalore-based TikTok rival. Mr. Sharma’s career bounced back after he posted a clip with his state’s chief minister and started making promotiona­l videos with other

B.J.P. office holders.

Ulhas Kamathe, a 44-yearold dad from Mumbai, had achieved a moment of internatio­nal fame on TikTok by devouring chicken platters while murmuring “chicken leg piece” with his mouth full. After losing his nearly seven million TikTok followers, he now has five million on YouTube, four million on Instagram and three million on Facebook.

“I have rebuilt without any help — all by myself,” he said.

 ?? INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? TikTok built a large audience in India before it was banned in 2020. Influencer­s recording a video in Mumbai in 2019.
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, VIA GETTY IMAGES TikTok built a large audience in India before it was banned in 2020. Influencer­s recording a video in Mumbai in 2019.

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