These may be exciting times for Chinese short video-sharing apps that have invaded smartphone users, especially in the Tier III and IV towns in India. But the steep rise in the popularity of apps like TikTok, Likee, Vigo Video and others has left the government as well as citizens baffled for one simple reason: An unabated rise in explicit, crass and inappropriate videos.
To their horror, the titillating videos made on these apps have now found a bigger mobile-based messaging medium to corrupt young minds: Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
WhatsApp with over 300 million users in India has become the one-stop shop for the circulation of videos showing scantily-clad girls dancing to vulgar tunes, adult jokes and explicit "funny" messages presented by homely girls being created in the narrow dingy by-lanes of small towns on such Chinese apps.
Although tech firms claim to have smart algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based systems along with human teams in place to check objectionable content, it is fast spreading.
Both WhatsApp and TikTok went silent over queries sent to them. TikTok directed us to an old statement that "we are committed to continuously enhancing our safety features as a testament to our ongoing commitment to our users in India".
According to Pavan Duggal, country's top cyber law expert and a senior Supreme Court advocate, the only way to stop massive circulation of vulgar videos on mobile applications is to address the issue of intermediary liability.
"The Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 makes the transmission or publication or causing to be published or transmitted in the electronic form - any information, which is lascivious or which appeals to the prurient interests or the effect of which is tend to deprave or corrupt the minds of those who are likely to see, read or hear the matter contained or embodied in it - as an offence," informed Duggal.
However, it is only a bailable offence and does not have any deterrent effect.
"The lack of any effective prosecution under Section 67 has let the people believe that they can circulate vulgar videos with impunity. Hence, the responsibility needs to be put on the service providers that the moment they are notified about any such offensive or vulgar videos on their platforms, they are duty bound to remove the same," Duggal told IANS.
In Shreya Singhal v/s Union of India case in 2015, Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which provided provisions for the arrest of those who posted allegedly offensive content on the Internet, upholding freedom of expression.
According to Duggal who is also Chairman, International Commission on Cyber Security Law, the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court need to be re-looked as the service providers are misinterpreting the provisions of the said judgment.
The Madras High Court wants a ban on TikTok, saying it spoils the future of youths and minds of children.
On its part, TikTok says it has stopped allowing users below 13 years to login and create an account on the platform.
"With the help of machine learning algorithms, videos can be screened as they are posted, with objectionable content removed even before a user reports it, in some instances.
However, the rate at such improper videos are being generated, the efforts are not enough.
"The government must amend the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 to specifically making tech companies liable for corrupting the minds of young Indians who get swayed by such explicit videos and may commit crimes," Duggal emphasised.
Failure to comply with norms should attract severe punishment of five to seven years and fine of Rs. 20-30 lakh for the tech companies in order to bring in appropriate deterrent effect, noted the Supreme Court advocate.