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Russia on verge of throwing out Chinese TikTok, launches ‘homemade Tiktok’

New Delhi/Moscow, Dec 11, 2021- Russia is on the verge of throwing out TikTok, the short-video making app owned by China-based ByteDance Ltd. The Russian government has launched homemade TikTok, called Yappy to cash on Tiktok’s popularity. Currently, there are 70 million monthly TikTok users in Russia. Russian government which enjoys friendly relations with China, appears to be going slow over the imminent move to throw out TikTok because of its foreign connection. Russia fears that foreign technological companies can ruin the mindset of its people.

Russia’s leading media conglomerate recently launched a domestic rival to the hugely popular video-sharing app TikTok. Russian media called it Russia’s campaign to reduce the influence of foreign websites and technology advances.Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of state-owned gas giant Gazprom, launched the service, named “Yappy”, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. Developed with the support of the Innopraktika foundation, an organization run by Katerina Tikhonova, one of President Vladimir Putin’s alleged daughters, the Yappy app began beta testing in September, with early access given to 300 bloggers ahead. The service has a number of similar functions to TikTok and is based on sharing short vertical video clips of up to 60 seconds in length.

What prompted Russia to have home made TikTok alternative?

Russia became upset with Chinese made app TikTok because of certain objectionable posts targetting children. These posts had reportedly incited children to attend unsanctioned street protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navlany.

TikTok came under fire alongside US tech giants for refusing to remove posts and ignoring Russian government request.

The Russian court had even fined TikTok 2.5 million rubles ($34,000) for failing to delete illegal content that incited minors to participate in unsanctioned protests in Moscow.

Tiktok – Most favoured video sharing app in Russia

Undoubtedly, the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok was the most downloaded phone application in Russia and elsewhere in the world. But now, Russia’s Gazprom-Media has got into the business to cash on the popularity of TikTok.

In late 2000, Russia had made public its decision to create a domestic alternative to TikTok.

Russia has since named TikTok as one of 13 international social media platforms that will be required to open an office on Russian soil by the end of 2021 – the latest law that critics say has been designed to squeeze the dominance of foreign tech companies and social media platforms in Russia. Be it Russia or Australia, TikTok has come under attack for adversely affecting health and children in particular.

Controversy surrounding TikTok’s algorithm

TikTok powerful algorithm is like nothing the world’s seen before. Tiktok has been accused of sharing data with the Chinese government. A joint investigation by Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s triple j’s Hack and Four Corners have found the TikTok algorithm is exposing Australians to dangerous content while controlling which people and political movements get users’ attention. The investigation has made startling revelations: For instance, TikTok claims that its mission is to “inspire creativity and bring joy” but it poses the risk of distorting the way much of a generation is seeing the world, and not always for the better. On sign up, TikTok starts collecting data about user’s location, gender and age and, more contentiously, his/her facial data.

The more a user clicks on “like” videos, follows an account, or watches a TikTok video until it ends, the more the algorithm learns about user’s interests.

It is very hard to break that cycle, and it’s by design that user never really gets to the end of the content. The more any user keeps you scrolling, the more ads user tends to. That’s what catapulted TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to a value of more than $250 billion.

Researchers have alleged that TikTok promotes eating disorders. Researchers say there are many factors that contribute to eating disorders. Tiktok’s algorithm looks for vulnerable people and then plays on that vulnerability. Swinburne University’s Dr Suku Sukunesan has advised TikTok on how to make the app safer. He has embedded himself in the app’s eating disorder communities.

“I was immediately given all this eating disorder content. After a couple of hours, TikTok suggested 30 different accounts to follow and they were all people living with eating disorder issues,” he said. According to Dr. Sukunesan, these TikToks effectively teach people how to have an eating disorder, and the algorithm can lead them to more severe videos, such as ones that promote self-harming. “It’s almost like a pit with no end and you find that these kids would ultimately harm themselves more,” he said.

The company’s policies maintained that TikTok bans “content depicting, promoting, normalising, or glorifying activities that could lead to suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders”.

A user tried to report videos promoting eating disorders only to be told they don’t breach any of TikTok’s guidelines. TikTok’s response to dealing with this problem is to ban pro-eating disorder hashtags so users can’t search for those videos. If they do, a number for eating disorder support service The Butterfly Foundation pops up. “Our teams consult with NGOs and other partners to continuously update the list of keywords on which we intervene,” a TikTok spokeswoman said.

Another TikTok user told Hack and Four Corners that when she reported a viral video of a man taking his own life it was also found not to breach the app’s community guidelines. It takes less than 30 seconds to find harmful content on TikTok, and a few hours for the algorithm to dominate someone’s feed with offensive videos, according to several researchers. Tech advocacy organisation Reset Australia ran experiments and discovered it takes about four hours for the algorithm to learn that a 13-year-old is interested in racist content, and about seven hours for sexist videos to swamp someone’s feed. The longer those users watch that kind of content, the more frequently they appear.

While TikTok has been facing pressure to eradicate harmful videos, it’s also been accused of using the algorithm to censor and suppress posts for the wrong reasons. In July, several Black influencers went on an indefinite strike, refusing to choreograph the viral dances TikTok relies on, and accusing the app of capitalising on their creativity without preferencing them in the algorithm.In March 2020, TikTok policy documents were leaked showing moderators were instructed to suppress posts by creators considered “ugly, poor, or disabled”.

Last year, TikTok apologised for suppressing posts with the hashtags “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd” after thousands of creators took to the platform to protest about their videos being suppressed or accounts being banned. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) did the first academic investigation into censorship on TikTok and found the company actively used its algorithm to hide political speech it deems controversial.

The study – which was funded by the US State Department – found hashtags about the mass detention of Uyghurs, Hong Kong protests, LGBTQI and anti-Russian government videos were among those being suppressed. In a statement, TikTok denies that the company is involved in censorship.  (Agency)

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