Deconstructing the Perception and Popularity of TikTok in India in a Media Literacy Framework


The recent statistics from the FICCI-KPMG report on India’s Media and Entertainment Sector states that India has the world's second-highest number of internet users after China, with around 570 million internet subscribers, growing at a rate of 13 per cent annually. With over 30 OTT platforms, and every social media platform expanding its user base in unprecedented ways, a scholarly engagement with the nuances of everyday digital media use and engagement in the Indian context is an area fraught with possibilities and complexities. In this context, a short video ecosystem known as TikTok created in China has found huge popularity in India after it was launched in 2016, which as per industry reports has over 200 million users in all and 120 million active users every month, who have spent over 5.5 billion hours on the app in 2019 alone. According to a report by a data analytics company, the time spent on TikTok in India was more than the next 11 countries combined in December 2019 alone. This research study would like to explore the user experience and motivation framework to make sense of the popularity of TikTok in India among 18 to 25 years old individuals, who have been identified as the most prominent users in TikTok’s biggest global market. The research study is premised on the argument that the engagement with the content on this application could be deeply ideological and shaped by power relations. By conducting in-depth interviews with the users in this short video ecosystem, this research study would endeavor to deconstruct how ideologies are embedded in everyday practices of engagement. This research paper will probe the users’ perceptions of TikTok in a media literacy framework, especially to understand content preferences, consumption patterns and production practices on a platform where the boundaries between the content creator and content consumer seem to be blurring . TikTok was banned in India for a month on charges of hosting pornographic content in 2019 and came back with a claim that the content had been moderated for the Indian market. This event is very peculiar to the Indian social and cultural context. This study, therefore, will try to explain the relationship between various concepts at the personal, social and systemic levels. The personal framework will probe concepts like entertainment needs, self-expression needs, and self-identity; while the social framework would analyze perceptions of interactions on the platform to understand group identity. The systemic level of concepts could further investigate perception of homogeneous content, moderation/review practices and legal framework to comprehend the politics of representation and institutional legitimization of the discourse generated by this platform. A platform completely driven by AI and based on the concept of a filter bubble; diverse representations of class, gender and sexuality weaving a complex ideological discourse; immersive user experience; cringe-worthy; where data breach is a constant apprehension, requires to be deconstructed layer by layer in a complex framework like India. This study will deconstruct the perception and popularity of this platform as a first step.