The difference between Instagram and TikTok, and why it matters

 

It’s about equal opportunities. At least in India.

Indian Instagram is bourgeoise

When social media like Instagram or YouTube appeared in India, with mainstream U.S. and Bollywood cultural references as their primary focus, they got millions of users from the middle classes.

The difference between Instagram and TikTok, and why it matters /img/tiktok-in-india.jpg

TikTok upload length of 15 seconds is feasible even without broadband. This, together with lack of curation or standards for it, was a godsend for creators from rural, poorer or marginalized caste backgrounds, who were otherwise invisible on the Indian internet. It gave them concrete opportunities to make decent money, even with theoretically unpolished content like joyfully “singing indigenous rhymes as floodwaters clogged their mud house”, and gained TikTok 200 million users in India in 2020, mostly outside the middle classes.

Then, geopolitics erased working class creators

The previous paragraphs summarize why, when social media appeared in India, they replicated the same class divisions of the wider society, while giving marginalized classes a great way to express themselves. Until June 2020, that is.

In that month, the Indian government banned many Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok. The ban was a retaliation for the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash but, among other things, also “erased working-class TikTok creators” in India.

This happened because what seems like its most similar “replacement” that is Instagram Reels, that Facebook launched right after the ban, has very different priorities and targets.

Instead of giving equal opportunities to all sorts of creators, Reels started right away with greater bandwidth requirements, stricter quality requirements and, above all, “courting influencers from upper-class backgrounds, to provide lifestyle [examples] for middle-class and upper-middle-class Indians”.

This priority to “lifestyle unobtainable for Indians from marginalized communities” has effectively shut down almost everybody who had been using TikTok to present a much more diverse and more realistic India. Not bad as (un)intended consequence, isn’t it? I wonder in how many other countries the same thing is happening, or may happen.

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