Tiktok mocking disabled people: A new low for the platform
COVID-19 has compelled more than half of the world population to be under lockdown. The people hence have resorted to social media to get through this phase. People are finding novel ways from live performance on Facebook to online antakshari on Twitter. Akshay Popawala, co-founder at digital marketing agency Togglehead said that during this phase usage and engagement rates is highest at Tiktok where people are spending more time on Tiktok watching and uploadi byng more videos.
One of such obnoxious Tiktok video is doing rounds on the social media. The video comprises of compilation of similar template videos where a police siren is heard and then person is seen to be behaving as a crippled, blind and like. The context of clips appears to be that as people are forbidden to leave their house amidst lockdown so when they hear police siren they pretend to be disabled to escape sanction. This is followed by a recorded laughter of the template video. The clips are obviously made for entertainment purpose but it crosses the line of entertainment and derives the pleasure out of hardships of Person with disability (PwD).
The video is troublesome as it is being promoted by one of the largest social media platform whose own policies prevent such content on its platform. Additionally there appears to be assumption among such creators and its audience that disabled people use their disability as an excuse to escape general sanctions. Hence it is imperative to cite hardships faced by disabled people during lockdown to make people and more to these tech giants aware that being disabled is not luxury and it is not definitely a content of humor.
Titktok in its own Terms of Service subjects user’s access and use of its services to certain conditions. User can be denied access if it “intimidate or harass another, or promote sexually explicit material, violence or discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; any material which is defamatory of any person, obscene, offensive, pornographic, hateful or inflammatory; any material that is racist or discriminatory, including discrimination on the basis of someone’s race, religion, age, gender, disability or sexuality;”
In addition to the above terms of serviced, Tiktok also subjects user’s content to Community Policy. Tiktok’s Community Policy under “Hate Speech” column specifies that if content intends to dehumanize an individual or group of individuals on the basis of protected attributes (Serious disease or disability). It also forbids individuals from posting such content. In addition to above cited measures Tiktok reserves the right to restrict or deny access to content if it finds it objectionable. In spite of having such measures in place clips were widely shared on its platform widely.
How did the Tiktok allowed such clips to spread ignoring its own Terms of Services is something that should be answered.
Such acts amounts to cyber trolling
Trolling is defined as person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content. The enace of internet or cyber trolling is not an unknown phenomena. A study by the University of Manitoba, in Canada, found trolls exhibit the personality traits of narcissists, psychopaths and sadists – taking pleasure in the suffering of others and lacking remorse or empathy for their victims.
In India the laws have not yet caught up with this menace. Apart from section 66E and 67 of the Internet Technology Act 2000 (IT Act) there is no specific law that deals with online trolling. The IT Act is however limited in its scope as it only deals with violation of privacy and publication of offensive material on the internet.
In Avinash Bajaj v State the court had held that whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished.
Criminal defamation (section 499 of Indian Penal Code) can also be invoked for prosecuting such trolls. However the section is also limited in its scope as it only concerns defamation by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations,. The section doesn’t deal with the liability of intermediaries (Social media platforms) either as it was never meant to.
Disabled people during COVID
Around 1.3 billion people suffer from some form of disability in the world. The social exclusion people are facing because of such lockdown has been a norm for such disabled people during normal times. Jane Buchanan deputy disability rights director at Human Rights Watch pointed out that “People with disabilities are among the world’s most marginalized and stigmatized even under normal circumstances,”
Many disabled people depend upon the community based social services to meet their daily basic requirements. Lockdown has barred them from availing such services. WHO has also cited several reasons as to why people with disability are at greater risk of contacting COVID-19 including;
Ø Barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, such as hand-washing (e.g. handbasins, sinks or water pumps may be physically inaccessible, or a person may have physical difficulty rubbing their hands together thoroughly);
Ø Difficulty in enacting social distancing because of additional support needs or because they are institutionalized;
Ø The need to touch things to obtain information from the environment or for physical support;
Ø Barriers to accessing public health information.
Rights of Person with Disability Act 2016 (PWD Act 2016) though mandates that dissemination of information should be in accessible formats (print and electronic) but the daily briefing of the concerned nodal agencies are not disseminated in the disabled friendly medium. So a deaf person might find it hard to know what the new measures are being taken in her/his area. Same is true for other guidelines and measures issued by different government agencies. It is rightly reported that even the comprehensive Disability inclusive guidelines issued by Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has made little difference as well.
The guidelines prescribes among many things that caregivers should be allowed to reach residence of PWD by exempting them from restriction, RWA should be sensitizes about the needs of disabled people, person involved in emergency response services should be trained in th right of PWD, Persons with disabilities should be given access to essential food, water, medicine etc. However these guidelines have not materialized yet. A deaf and mute vendor had to approach police because he ran out of food for his family but police failed to understand his sign language. A mother had to tweet her hardships to Prime Minister. She was not able to get camel milk for her autistic child who was allergic to other source of milks. Many disabled people in unorganized sector have also lource of livelihooost their sd and are stranded in shelter homes with no special care. There is a requirement of long time preparedness and sufficient infrastructure for proper implementation of such guidelines. Unfortunately we are seeing none.
I belong to this disabled section and need regular medical check up in Delhi, however the lockdown has abstained me from going there. Hence I have to contact my doctor on whatsapp. This is just a fraction of hardships that other less privileged disabled people have to go through. From the above discussion it might have become apparent that deriving pleasure out of such people is ethically, morally and legally wrong.
This is not the first time that Tiktok has stirred controversy on subject related to PwD. Last year a report pointed out that Tiktok is using its moderation tool to limit the reach of content of disabled person and other groups who are vulnerable to harassment. Instead of framing better directives to prevent cyberbullying and cybermobbing Tiktok resorted to limiting the reach of victims.
We are subjected to additional hardships than our counterparts. Disabled people are more dependent on the society and their help because of lack of infrastructure and sensitivity towards PWD in our country. Many of the disabled people are in need of special care which they are not able to receive. This can result in worsening of disability. Disabled people hardly resort to protest/agitation to ask for their right because many of them are not capable enough to do so. Hence people often ignore the fact of marginalisation of this large section which transcends religion, caste, race and gender. Deriving pleasure out of their hardships is just a validation of such insensitivity of people and even more of these giant corporations.
I would like to end up with a statement of chief of Indian Institute of Public Health G.V.S. Murthy
“We would fail as a human race if we don’t show a humane response in an equitable manner with affirmative action for people with disabilities.”
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