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COVID-19 brought the best and worst out of TikTok

The popular and highly controversial short video-sharing platform TikTok has once again hogged the limelight even as India battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have read reports about how streetchildren used TikTok to beat the stress ever since the country went into a lockdown, then you could hardly miss findings about how misinformation aimed at discouraging Muslims from taking preventive measures against COVID-19 circulated on the platform.

The videos created on TikTok often find their ways to other social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, reaching a wider audience.

And then came the hate messages targeting the Muslim community.

Urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps to spread hate mongering on social media, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (Apex Confederation of Muslim Organisations) chief Navaid Hamid alleged that 30,000 "fake clips are in circulation on TikTok to spread disinformation that Muslims are spreading COVID-19 in the country" and that "these clips are creating tensions between communities across India".

The government took note of the developments and even wrote a letter to some of these platforms, including TikTok, to take down videos that spread misinformation about the disease.

TikTok says it is doing its bit to fight the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus – from improving moderation efforts to removing thousands of videos that violated its rules.

"In the present context in particular, invalidated or misleading content poses an acute concern and is an area of focus for social media platforms. At TikTok, we have heightened our moderation efforts, and have been monitoring and systematically removing content from our platform that violates our Community Guidelines," said a TikTok spokesperson.

"In India, we have removed thousands of videos that have contradicted legitimate advice about COVID-19 from credible authorities, as well as content that could cause imminent harm to public health and safety," the spokesperson added.

In fact, such has been the popularity of TikTok that several law enforcement agencies -- including Bengaluru City Police, Delhi Police, Uttarakhand Police, Kerala Police, Punjab Police and Maharashtra Police -- have used the platform to raise awareness about how to fight COVID-19.

"Over the last few weeks, our platform has prioritised informative content and supported several government and law enforcement agencies, as well as non-profit organisations across India in disseminating information regarding responsible practices in an entertaining and responsible manner," the TikTok spokesperson said.

Several global organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNDP are now using TikTok to share useful content and shed light on how to stay safe.

The short-video sharing platform owned by Beijing-based ByteDance last week said it donated 400,000 hazmat medical protective suits and 200,000 masks worth Rs 100 crore in order to help doctors and other medical professionals tackle the spread of COVID-19 in India.

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