Censorship

TikTok ban didn’t affect much, internet shutdown had already done the job, say content creators from Kashmir

With the ban on the Chinese app, millions of users from India have gone offline. But content creators in Kashmir say their sentence was served long back. 

Faizan Ahmed Khan was eighteen years old when he first created a TikTok account of his own. What “started as a joke” soon grew into a hobby where eventually he took upon content creation on the app more seriously.

Up until Monday, when the Government of India banned TikTok along with 58 other media applications in the country, Faizan had accumulated approximately 4 Lakh followers.

When asked about how the government’s ban on TikTok would affect his fan base, Faizan scoffed. “Honestly,” he says, “the ban won’t affect me much. The communication blockade after August 5 had hit me more.”

In July 2018, Faizan, a resident of Srinagar presently pursuing a B-Com degree from Islamia College, was at a relative’s wedding, when out of sheer boredom a cousin of his asked him to make a TikTok clip with him.

“Just for fun, we dubbed a dialogue from a famous Bollywood film on his phone and posted it on Instagram,” he recalls. “I enjoyed the process of making the clips and thought of making content from an account of my own”.

Within six months of posting content on TikTok, which included dubbing dialogues, songs, and enacting scenes from Bollywood films, Faizan accumulated approximately 2 Lakh followers.

He initially experimented with making solo videos, however, soon started collaborating with a friend from Pampore.

“People think TikTok is useless when in fact, creating content is so hard. Making even 15-second clips takes a lot of effort. It involves learning the dialogues, setting up the scene, perfecting timing,” he says.

While Faizan and his friend’s effort finally began to reap results, his progress got severely hampered because of the communications blockade imposed on the valley post-August 5.

“There is a stage in content creation where the video clips begin to trend significantly,” he says, adding, “this tipping point if not cashed in strategically, makes or breaks chances of getting truly famous.”

By July, Faizan’s content had reached that tipping point with some of his content garnering millions of views.

“I was getting offers from celebrities such as Ankit Tiwari, Ekta Kapoor, and different brands for promoting their products on my videos,” he says.

However, the internet shutdown made it impossible for him to create content and keep up with the competition.

By the time 2g network was restored in the valley and restrictions on social media apps lifted, his dream of crossing 1 million followers had long been tossed outside the window.

“By August I was trending. Had they not shut down the internet, I am sure I would have accumulated at least 3 million followers by the end of that year,” he says regretfully.

Despite the lockdown and internet blockade, in the six months that followed the abrogation of Article 370, Faizaan got one Lakh more followers even though he was not posting any content. “Imagine how many followers I would have been able to accumulate had there been no internet shutdown,” he said.

Over the past four months, Faizan had been making content mostly to maintain his fan base rather than expand it. He explained how the platform had increasingly become extremely competitive.

“Had I been on-trend like I was last year, the Tik-Tok ban would have hit me, but August 5 had already stolen my moment so this ban did not affect me much.”

Upon asking him what he planned to do next, he hesitantly said that he was strongly considering making vlogs and using other platforms such as Instagram and Youtube to continue with his passion for creating popular content. “But the content I used to make on Tik-Tok and for which I was popular, the same content cannot be made on the other apps,” he added.

On Monday, the Government of India banned a total of 59 Chinese mobile application in the country. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in its press release, said that it banned the applications primarily to counter the threat they posed to the country’s “sovereignty and security.” The MHA said that the ban, imposed under Section 69 A of the Information Technology Act, was to address the legitimate concerns of “data security and citizens’ privacy.” 

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Tik-Tok went inactive in India and can no longer be downloaded from Google or the App store. The ban on these mobile applications has come in the backdrop of India’s tense military standoff with the PLA in eastern Ladakh. The Tik-Tok ban, which is being seen as part of India’s coercive diplomacy, however, has triggered large and wide ripple effects across the country. It has affected thousands of local content-creators for whom the app had become a major source of income.

The most popular content-creators are known to earn Rs. 2.5-3 Lack per clip, with the potential of earning Rs. 50 lakh a month.

Another popular Tik-Tokker from the city, Musaib Bashir, 26, in conversation with FPK shared how he would earn Rs. 10,000 for every 20 clips he posted on the app.

Musaib, who presently handles his family business, said that he used the app for part-time earnings, where he would be able to earn roughly Rs. 35-40k a month. Up until Monday, he had accumulated roughly 2 lack followers on the app.

A resident of Srinagar, Musaib has had a much similar journey on Tik-Tok as Faizan. He began posting content on the app about a year and a half ago. Most of his content was recorded in the local language, Koshur, and catered mostly to the local audiences.

“I went to Delhi after a few weeks post abrogation of Article 370, but it did not help much. My content was in Koshur and my main fan base was from parts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, where a complete internet shut-down had been imposed. My audience was offline” he says.

In response to the Tik-Tok ban he says, “they could have informed the people in advance as it would have given us some time to take our fan bases to other platforms.”

With close to 13K subscribers on his Youtube channel and about 2k followers on Instagram, he told FPK how he plans to continue to make content on other platforms. However, he says other apps do not have the same “charm” that Tik-Tok had.

“I am sure I will be able to make money from other apps as well,” he said. “It hardly matters,” he paused and added, “but it matters.”

The stories of these online content creators come at a time when high-speed internet continues to be restricted on cellular phones in the valley.

According to a recent study by Delhi-based think-tank International Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), titled ‘The Anatomy of An Internet Blackout: Measuring the economic impact of internet shutdowns in India’, frequent internet suspension has inflicted a loss of around Rs 4,000 crore on Kashmir’s economy in the last six years.

Kashmir premiere trading body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), had said in January that businesses in the valley have suffered losses worth Rs 18,000 crore since August 5. The KCCI report stated at least 5,000 salesmen in tourism and mobile services business that includes some 2,000 shops in the commercial hub of Lal Chowk, and its adjoining markets were not paid salaries for August, September and October while 4.96 lakh people lost their jobs. Sectors like tourism, horticulture, and agriculture have been the worst hit, while online business has taken a death-blow.

According to a report published by JKCCSS, in 2020 alone the valley witnessed 55 internet blockades on account of encounters carried by the armed forces across different districts in Kashmir.

However, this damage was restricted to Kashmir alone. With the new ban on TikTok, millions of content creators like Faizan from across India, are mulling to shift bases. Local alternatives for TikTok have surfaced on the internet, and have received funding too, but it will take a lot of time for the change to happen.

Meanwhile, Kashmir continues to be kept under reduced speed. 

 

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