Kenya in rush to check out trashy TikTok amid global bans

For a long time now, I have been struggling to heed to my daughter’s request to set up for her an account on TikTok. She tells me she wants to record her new dance moves, which she would then upload into her account for many people to watch and follow her and this will somehow see her “become very famous.”

Although I don’t have a TikTok account myself, the roiling storm engulfing the video-sharing app with regard to security of data of minors have not helped the matter.

I have been nursing very deep reservations about having TikTok account for the seven-year-old girl knowing all too well that the platform, which is home to dance videos and viral comedy, is yet to come clean following an avalanche of accusations on “exploiting the vulnerability” of children in other markets.

In one of the outstanding cases, in early April, TikTok was slapped with a fine of £12.7 million (about Kes2.2 billion) by authorities in the UK following widespread accusations of misusing data gathered from millions of minors.

The latest fine meted on the video hosting service owned by Chinese company ByteDance appeared as an escalation of the endless punches to the gut the firm has been sucking from governments in the West, which have issued orders banning their employees from using the app on State-issued devices.

The United States, Canada, UK, Afghanistan, Australia, Denmark, EU, France, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, and Taiwan have all implemented partial or total ban on use of TikTok on State-issued devices citing “security threats” on advice from their hawk-eyed intelligence agencies.

Whereas TikTok disputes that the data it collects is within reach and limitless access by the authorities in China, the misgivings about security of data appeared to escalate further mid-April when Montana, a western state in the US, banned the use of TikTok even on personal devices in a Bill that is awaiting the Governors sign to become law starting January. India and Afghanistan have a similar ban on the platform in place.

Kenya has often taken the cue from the West on an array of critical decisions regarding the use of new technology. But the reality is just like Tik Tok American companies are doing the exact same thing, gathering data and using videos streams to weave personalized content with advertising (political or commercial) around users browser histories.

As Gillian Diebold, a policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, told the Guardian, blanket bans on apps based on a company’s foreign ownership will only hurt US businesses in the long run because countries could seek to block US online services over similar national security concerns.

But while we are damned if we go west or east, it is worth noting from their fight the dangers posed by the growing use of social media be it TikTok, Facebook live, Instagram or Youtube shorts.

“There is self-harm content, there is nonsensical content about cures for mental health [conditions],” Imran Ahmed of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, an organisation that pushes big tech firms to stop providing services to individuals, who may promote hate and misinformation, told The Guardian.

Based on a survey on 13-year-old kids from the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, Ahmed observed that TikTok algorithm was configured to interest them with self-harm and eating disorder-related content within just 2.5 minutes of setting up an account on the app.

Read also: Why switching off the internet is not an option for Kenya 

While cautioning against TikTok, intelligence units in the West have cited a set of regulations that give room to the Chinese government to covertly ask for data from Chinese firms and citizens for their intelligence-gathering needs.

There is also growing fear that Beijing could ride on TikTok’s algorithms on content recommendations to power massive misinformation campaigns on target countries given the never ending antagonism between China and the West.

According to the New York Times, on March 23, a spokeswoman for the ministry of commerce in China said Beijing would “firmly oppose” the sale of the video-sharing app, perhaps reacting to reports that US lawmakers could force the sale of TikTok to a US company.

For every rule, there is an exception, but social media freedom has been stretched beyond limits with a section of Kenyans using TikTok to share live, racy-naked videos and pictures, which anyone including children can access.

Digital brothels

Last week, however, Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) acting CEO Christopher Wambua came out saying some social platforms have been turned into digital brothels where nudity is served in blatant breach of the law.

“Some apps are being transformed into digital brothels from midnight onwards. Equally worrying is the non-consensual dissemination of intimate images or videos of individuals in violation of privacy laws… Are we losing the values that define us as a people? 

“As a society, are we beginning to revel in and celebrate seeing others go down?  Are we harnessing the true value of social media in general and film in particular? Have we, as a people, normalised violence and misogyny to the point of being insensitive to these vices?” Mr Wambua asked, ostensibly irked by the increasing use of available social media platforms as conduit for X-rated content, government-issued devices notwithstanding.

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