The TikTok Vs YouTube war, started by two of its most prominent stars Carryminati and Amir Siddiqui is showing no signs of slowing down. It has started a conversation about the heaps of homophobic and misogynist content that large audiences enjoy across social media platforms. And while faces of these are all dudes, the people who lose out because of the messages they are promoting are women and queer folks.
With scores of fans, and crores of money riding on these internet stars, are we mainstreaming misogyny in 21st century digital India in the name of entertainment?
Picture this: A video where a woman is shown in torn clothes, and the next shot has Tiktoker Mujibur Rehman zipping up his pants. Another one where a young girl is slapped by her possessive boyfriend who she no longer wants to be with. A clip where the hero gets his woman by stalking her. The real world battle with misogyny now has a social media packaging. If this is where the young people are, should we be questioning the content that is being consumed?
Recently TikToker Faizal Siddiqui’s video was banned because it showed him throwing liquid (suggesting acid) on a girl’s face who refused his advances, but there is a lot out there made both by content stars and further emulated by their fans that doesn’t get called out. The Chairwoman of the National Commission for Women (NCW) Rekha Sharma, raised an objection to TikTok saying they have discovered hundreds of videos that infer rape, abuse and molestation on the platform.
But ban or no ban, the question we must address runs deeper. Videos high on toxic masculinity, drunk on testosterone and powered by expletives are sold to viewers as humour and content and they are buying into it eagerly. Young men with strong words and aggressive body language are setting up a prototype for teens and young men to use, and inspiring them to build their own content churning machine. The urban boys and small town sakht laundas may want to grab each other by neck and roll in the mud over who created better content, but in reality, they are just two peas in the same pod. The fight is yet again about who is a better, bigger man.
Whether it is among creators or platforms, the outcomes of such videos directly impacts how we think of women and the LGBTQ community. The sort of social functioning where oppression of women is considered macho, where a boy who cries is mocked, where young boys attain hero ‘stature’ for inappropriately touching women. On social apps, this is amplified, because misogyny suddenly finds a fertile ecosystem and flourishes through fan following.
While there are platforms such as SheThePeople and many others highlighting counter speech, we need more mainstreaming of inclusive and intersectional content. And along with that, parallel efforts for counselling, discussions with parents, teen talk all of which highlight misogyny and promote inclusion.
Aside of problems with the content itself, one must spotlight that a lot of money rides on these creators. According to AsiaVille, Indian actor, Riyaz Aly, from Jaigaon, West Bengal gets an estimated $1,37,500 (approximately Rs. 97,84,900 or 97 lakh rupees plus) per post. Indian television actress Arishfa Khan, singer Nisha Guragain, and choreographer Awez Darbar, all from Mumbai, also appear in the top 10 of TikTok Rich List. With money, fame and power should come responsibility?
Should one blame just the creators? Video sharing and social networking platform can’t entirely shrug away their responsibility in the escalation of toxic behaviour in the Indian digital space. Since platforms are instrumental in making celebrities out of aspiring stars, don’t they bear some responsibility towards the conduct of these creators?
Social media is a reflection of society and ours has been run on a template of patriarchy. However that cannot be the justification for things not to change. Boys cannot be boys any longer and we must raise them better without telling our girls to protect themselves from the ‘bad world of the internet’. While banning content can be a temporary solution, we ought to have more public debate and discourse on deeply embedded attitudes in our society towards all genders.
Yamini PB Rao and Shaili Chopra authored the piece. Views are the authors’ own