Is banning applications truly the best way to go?

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‘Money laundering through Likee,’ ‘Luring of girls through TikTok to trafficking them abroad,’ and ‘PUBG and Free Fire addiction leads to teen suicide,’ are just a few of the recent stories that have been making the rounds on social media. In light of these circumstances, and in light of India’s recent ban on 59 applications, including TikTok and PUBG (just relaunched as Battleground Mobile India), there have been doubts about whether Bangladesh may follow suit. For a long time, there have been concerns about the usage – and misuse – of such programs. With countless arguments on both sides, this debate continues to elicit differing viewpoints from various organizations around the country.

Concerns about the usage of these applications have appeared in a variety of forms. Following the arrest of individuals belonging to a human trafficking group who used Tiktok to attract victims, the head of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) issued a statement calling for the banning of video-sharing applications like TikTok and Likee. This isn’t the first time similar crimes have been committed. Previously, a number of similar cases have been recorded in which victims were enticed by the prospect of shooting TikTok and Likee videos. These applications have also been linked, to some extent, to the growth of adolescent gang culture in the United States, according to law enforcement officials. According to many media reports, games like PUBG and Free Fire are generating ‘gaming addiction’ among youngsters. CID is now investigating Bigo (the parent company of Likee) for a suspected money laundering scheme. Even on a worldwide scale, several of these applications have been the target of vehement legal action. In September 2020, the Trump administration attempted to ban TikTok in the United States because to national security concerns. In the past, Pakistan and Indonesia had banned TikTok because to unpleasant, “obscene” material. After obtaining assurances from TikTok that material would be monitored and security procedures would be improved, they removed the restriction. In these instances, prohibiting certain applications and services may appear to be the simple solution. Is it, however, the best solution?

From their end, the platforms have taken steps to prevent such events in the future. In the past, TikTok has taken steps to prevent the spread of harmful and false information. The short video platform updates its Community Standards on a regular basis and introduces fact-checking initiatives in eight countries. Following the current human trafficking scandal, they launched the #HoiShocheton campaign to promote awareness. The initiative partnered with a number of TikTokers, including actress Mehazabein, singer Imran, and model Mahi, among others, to promote online and offline safety. In response to a question, a TikTok spokesman stated, “Irresponsible online behavior is an issue that affects the whole business, and it is a shared duty. We continue to prioritize the safety and well-being of our communities by taking preventive measures. We will continue to safeguard users from any type of abuse and to provide a secure and enjoyable in-app experience.”

However, some may have concerns regarding the extent to which Tiktok’s prohibition against negative content has been implemented, since unpleasant or ‘culturally incorrect’ content continues to flood the app in large quantities.

Likee has also been the subject of privacy issues, mostly because to its lack of sophistication in terms of privacy settings. Users may still watch videos from persons who have blocked them on Likee. Any new Likee accounts will have their locations set to public by default, which users will have to alter. Searches can also be filtered by gender. Such characteristics raise concerns about user safety.

“We spare no efforts in combatting undesirable content that violates our standards,” a Likee spokesman stated when questioned about measures to prevent harmful content and behavior. From January through May of this year, 42,751 accounts were banned owing to infractions, with an average of 8.7 million video fines each month. In Bangladesh, the number of members of the moderation team has grown by 161% this year compared to 2020. Likee inspects the contents in various circumstances with a full content security system in place, correctly battling negative material such as fraudulent information, pornographic links, and so on, and managing anomalous contents in real-time. We have a crew on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to guarantee that all reported information and accounts are correctly handled.”

The influence of these applications on academic achievement has also become a hot subject. Young gamers devote a significant portion of their time to games like PUBG, Free Fire, and others, often forsaking their schoolwork to do so. President of the Bangladesh ICT Journalist Forum and IT Editor of Ittefaq, Mojahidul Islam, says, “Students used to be expected to stay at school till a particular time. Students’ exposure to the internet has risen as a result of the introduction of online classrooms. As a result, individuals become addicted to such apps. They are much more interested than in the past with likes and opinions.”

However, there are counter-arguments to the prohibition. Many people worry that students are growing hooked to PUBG and are ignoring their studies as a result. Unfortunately, pupils do not have access to a healthy choice. Playing games like PUBG is currently one of their major methods of de-stressing. Children have had less access to the increasingly scarce physical playgrounds and in-person gatherings with their friends where they might enjoy spending their spare time, especially after the outbreak of the epidemic. In these COVID-19-affected times, playing video games with pals and interacting with them on social media platforms have become their sole means of remaining in contact with the outside world.

Furthermore, applications such as Likee and TikTok just provide a platform for self-expression. Content on such platforms is only a reflection of the content providers’ attitudes and ideas. These applications are also being used by certain designers for instructional reasons. “Apps like Tiktok are simply the beginning of a new age of democratization of talent,” said Muhammed Asif Khan, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Catering. Previously, if you wanted to be a celebrity, you had to rely on record labels and film producers to choose who to promote. YouTube was most likely the first platform that allowed a content producer to directly access a large audience. It’s simply that newer applications take it a step farther. There will be more in the future, and banning one or two of them now would not stop the trend. Instead, we may consider laws and regulations to make these apps more secure.”

Furthermore, TikTok and Likee are only two of the numerous applications that are being abused to spread harmful information. This type of information may also be found on other social networking sites. A surface-level “solution” of banning a few is extremely likely to be a surface-level “solution.” According to Ayesha Atiq, a model and TikTok content producer, “TikTok and Likee are similar to other sites where content creators publish amusing and engaging videos, such as Instagram. While some of these apps have been linked to pornography and human trafficking, prohibiting them isn’t the answer when the problem is a lack of a competent legal framework to punish the criminals, as well as a lack of social education and moral standards.”

Dr. Farhana Rahman, a professor at a prestigious medical school, feels that strong family ties can help. “As a family, we need to be more conscious of our children’s time spent on screens. Parents must ensure that they are always engaging with their children about dangerous online and offline activities so that they may make the best decision possible.”

Many people are concerned about the proliferation of “indecent” or “immoral” content, which has led to TikTok being banned in various countries in the past. Standards for what constitutes “appropriate” kinds of entertainment, on the other hand, are entirely subjective. Leaving it up to any institution to decide what constitutes “good, moral, acceptable material” for the whole country is unacceptable in and of itself, and smacks of the dreaded Thought Police that Orwell warned us about.

Accepting the prohibition on these applications today might pave the door for future bans on other forms of expression. Following such prohibitions just gives the institution in charge of the activity more control over the narrative and information available to the public.

The prohibition of certain applications may result in information discrepancy. China is a good example, where applications like Twitter and Facebook, as well as search engines like Google, are prohibited. Due to a lack of access to such significant platforms, there is room for inconsistencies between the information accessible there and that available elsewhere. As a result, such disparities may have a negative impact on education and creativity.

Overall, legitimate worries exist about the harmful consequences of utilizing applications like TikTok, Likee, PUBG, and others. However, whether or not banning the applications is a realistic long-term solution remains to be seen. “Banning the means of expression cannot be the answer when the core of this issue is much deeper,” said Zohaina Amreen, a Tiktok digital artist. More thought and attention must be given to the core causes of the issues, and it is these causes that must be addressed. Perhaps the solution is to raise knowledge about what ideas and content are healthy and indiscriminate, what are excellent ways to spend time other than on the internet, and what online behaviors to avoid.

The Daily Star Reports

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