Savitri and Sanatan Mahto, a brother-sister duo, who are based out of a village in Jharkhand and became TikTok influencers. When they started using TikTok in 2018, they realized that through it, they could earn a decent amount of money as well as fame. Their dance videos, based in a village setting had gone viral. Over three years, their channel gained 27 lakh followers on TikTok! According to WatConsult, an Indian Digital agency, They could make INR 1,50,000 per month from brand partnerships compared to around INR 10,000 per month as a farm laborer.
If you ask people about the content on TikTok, then many people would make use of an adjective- “cringe”. If anyone would Google search “cringe TikTok”, you’ll find loads of articles and videos roasting TikTok. But in 2020, TikTok had clocked over 20 crore users in India. Also, TikTok gave an opportunity to many creators who hailed from disadvantaged communities But all of this changed last year. In June 2020, TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps were pulled down by the Indian govt following the Galwan valley border clash with China.
The TikTok ban was widely celebrated by many influences and celebrities saying that they would no longer be subjected to cringe content. After the ban, Instagram Reels tried to substitute TikTok But Instagram Reels was nothing like TikTok. Divya Kandukuri, who is an anti-caste activist from Andhra Pradesh pointed out that, “TikTok was a canteen; Instagram is a café. While the canteen has better food, the café serves costly coffee that not everyone drinks.” And in this post, we will see the impact of TikTok’s ban on several creators “…TikTok, along with other Chinese apps has been banned in India.” “… all of them are crazy. Not us…” “…I will reveal before you the trash that is on TikTok.” “…the people in the towns are able to see that the guy is talented.
He can do comedy, sing, dance…” In 2019, a reporter of The Print went to Delhi’s Connaught Place to cover a story on TikTokers. At that moment, some boys had gathered near the H&M showroom to make TikTok videos. At some distance, the reporter spotted a group of people laughing at the TikTokers. A boy from the group said, “These jokers are lower-caste people, and no one from the upper castes would ever make such videos”. This mindset was very rampant in India. That TikTok is mainly for the ‘lower castes’. For instance, ithis tweet, which went viral but has now been deleted, where YouTube and Instagram were categorized under the ‘Brahmin’ category, Twitter under ‘Kshatriya’, Facebook under ‘Vaishya’ and TikTok under ‘Shudra’ category. Yes, a lot of us harbored such a mindset! The irony here is -social media platforms are marketed to offer equal representation to every section. But it became clear that equal representation is not granted on these platforms. But why did most of us formulate such an opinion about the TikTokers?
One possible reason could be that the backdrops of these videos were rural. Where we could see their plain walls and one roomed houses. In one of the videos, Savitri and Sanatan are seen dancing in dirty water. It is this class divide that led to an Internet war TikTok vs Youtube. Most of you must be aware about it. Popular YouTubers not only criticized TikTok’s content but also the TikTokers An important question arises – why is the class divide visible over social media? A 2019 study by Lokniti-CSDS found that social media space continues to be dominated by general castes as compared to Dalits and tribals However, TikTok managed to change that domination. However, the sudden change in government regulations meant that TikTokers had to look for alternate apps as an uncertain environment regarding TikTok had begun to develop.
Lokniti CSDS studies have told us about the low representation of SCs and STs on the social media space. So, how TikTok was successful in making creators like Mahtosvery popular? According to a graph by KalaGato, a market intelligence firm, TikTok expanded its reach to 30% of all Indian smartphones within a mere 18-month period. Aman Kumar, chief business officer of this market intelligence company says, “A majority of TikTok’s users come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities”. Other international tech platforms such as Instagram can be usually found in major urban cities.
Moreover, Kumar says, “Approximately 52% of Indian TikTok users earn less than INR25,000 per month”. There are two main factors that led to the semi-urban and rural Indian communities to create content on TikTok First, TikTok’s interface. Whereas Facebook and Twitter were built around making friends and adding followers, TikTok was about winning fans. TikTok made its users believe that they stand a chance of becoming a global celebrity, as long as they can hold people’s attention for 15-60 seconds And this is built into TikTok’s AI-driven interface. In that interface, people were not choosing the content that they wanted to see It was the algorithm that was showing the users what it thought they’d like to see. So, this was about the users Basically, the AI interface of TikTok made it easy for users to see a video Now, let us talk about creators.
TikTok had many features that made it easier for the creators to make videos. And these features were not available on Instagram, Youtube or Facebook to this extent Neither did TikTok have any language barriers and it was very easy for the creators to sync music. For example, Arman Rathod (29), a Gujarat-based car cleaner, had around 27 lakh followers on TikTok. He was using an inexpensive Oppo phone with a broken screen to create videos. TikTok allowed him to actually pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a dancer and even bagged him an entry into a popular Sony TV show. TikTok’s library of songs, also included regional Indian songs which would probably not be heard in the cities of India.
As TikTok and its creators became popular, mainstream brands also started to advertise and support them. Sahil Shah, at WatConsult, a leading Indian digital agency says, “TikTok democratized the creator economy and gave economic opportunities to marginalized groups”. Now that TikTok has been banned, its biggest rival – Instagram reels have taken the limelight. Instagram Reels now has 21 crore active users, who are uploading 60 lakh short videos daily. But the launch campaign of Instagram reels did not attract TikTok creators but promoted itself through a set of influencers from well off backgrounds. Dr Rahul Advani, a research fellow at the University College London, said, “There is a clear difference between Reels and TikTok. Reels is a more upmarket space.” Author Anurag Verma wrote- Instagram Reels are designed in such a way that you feel like you’re entering an expensive restaurant and a subtle form of casteism can be seen in such an environment.
There are stricter requirements just to upload a video on Instagram reels In its latest guidelines, Instagram said that it wouldn’t recommend videos that are blurry, bear a watermark or logo, or have a border around them. This raises the barrier to entry for creators. The same can be seen in the case of Youtube. For example, Sanatan Mahto was using a a low-end smartphone to upload videos on TikTok said that, “My smart phone was so slow that I couldn’t upload a YouTube video on that”. Apart from technical specifications, the taste of the users on Instagram is also very different. There is a demand for beautiful and aesthetic videos on Instagram, which a lot of TikTok creators are not able to achieve Due to which many TikTok creators are struggling on Instagram.
Sahil Shah, at WatConsult says, that Tier 3 and tier 4 creators have lost majorly on Instagram He says that Instagram reels have indeed become popular, and some Indian apps have also been created to relplace TikTok For example- Moj but TikTok creators are finding it hard to connect with these platforms. When Sanatan and Savitri were asked to produce a reel on a foreign song, He said, “I’m not able to connect with the songs in the trends on Instagram” Sanatan added, “Samaj hi nahi aata hai”. (I’m unable to understand) The brother sister duo have garnered success on Instagram and Youtube but the number of views have not managed to climb. And despite the growing number of followers and subscribers on YouTube and Instagram, it remains unclear whether people on these platforms consider them “creators” or not. “…because so many media persons came, articles were written and newspapers covered us but they still wonder what we can accomplish They can’t do anything.”