India banned TikTok; here's how it went

TikTok could soon be banned in the U.S., with President Joe Biden on Wednesday expected to sign a measure outlawing the hugely popular Chinese app if its parent company doesn’t sell the company.

The measure gives Beijing-based parent company ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok, with a possible additional three months if a sale is in progress. If it doesn’t, the app will be banned.

American users could look to India, where TikTok was banned nearly four years ago. Here's what happened: 

Why did India ban TikTok? 

In June 2020, TikTok users in India bid goodbye to the app, which is operated by Chinese internet firm ByteDance. New Delhi had suddenly banned the popular app, alongside dozens other Chinese apps, following a military clash along the India-China border. Twenty Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed, and ties between the two Asian giants plunged to a new low.

The government of the world's most populous country cited privacy concerns and said that Chinese apps pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and security.

The move mostly drew widespread support in India, where protesters had been calling for a boycott of Chinese goods since the deadly confrontation in the remote Karakoram mountain border region.

"There was a clamour leading up to this, and the popular narrative was how can we allow Chinese companies to do business in India when we’re in the middle of a military standoff," Nikhil Pahwa, a digital policy expert and founder of tech website MediaNama, told the Associated Press.

Just months before the ban, India had also restricted investment from Chinese companies, Pahwa added. 

"TikTok wasn’t a one-off case. Today, India has banned over 500 Chinese apps to date," Pahwa said.

How did users and creators react?

In this photo illustration, the TikTok logo is displayed on a mobile phone screen. (Photo Illustration by Idrees Abbas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, the TikTok logo is displayed on a mobile phone screen. (Photo Illustration by Idrees Abbas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

At the time of the ban, India had about 200 million TikTok users – the most outside of China. The company also employed thousands of Indians.

TikTok users and content creators, however, needed a place to go — and the ban provided a multi-billion dollar opportunity to snatch up a big market. Within months, Google rolled out YouTube Shorts and Instagram pushed out its Reels feature. 

Both mimicked the short-form video creation that TikTok had excelled at.

"They ended up capturing most of the market that TikTok had vacated," Pahwa told the Associated Press.

In India, TikTok content was hyperlocal, which made it quite unique. It opened a window into the lives of small-town India, with videos coming from tier 2 and 3 cities that showed people doing tricks while laying down bricks, for example.

But for the most part, content creators and users in the four years since the ban have moved on to other platforms.

Winnie Sangma misses posting videos on TikTok and earning a bit of money. But after the ban, he migrated to Instagram and now has 15,000 followers. The process, for the most part, has been relatively painless.

"I have built up followers on Instagram too, and I am making money from it, but the experience isn’t like how it used to be on TikTok," he said.

Rajib Dutta, a frequent scroller on TikTok, also switched to Instagram after the ban. "It wasn’t really a big deal," he said.

How is India’s ban different from the U.S.?

The U.S. legislation to outlaw the app has won congressional approval and now awaits a signature from Biden.

The measure gives ByteDance nine months to sell it, and three more if a sale is underway. If this doesn’t happen, TikTok will be banned. It would take at least a year before a ban goes into effect, but with likely court challenges, it could stretch longer.

In India, the ban in 2020 was swift. TikTok and other companies were given time to respond to questions on privacy and security, and by January 2021, it became a permanent ban.

But the situation in the U.S. is different, according to Pahwa.

 "In India, TikTok decided not to go to court, but the U.S. is a bigger revenue market for them. Also, the First Amendment in America is fairly strong, so it’s not going to be as easy for the U.S. to do this as it was for India," he told the Associated Press, in reference to free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution.

As Chinese apps proliferate across the world, Pahwa says countries need to assess their dependency on China and develop a way to reduce it as the apps can pose a national security risk.

The app is also banned in Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan and restricted in many countries in Europe.

"Chinese intelligence law and its cybersecurity law can allow Chinese apps to work in the interest of their own security. That creates a situation of distrust and it becomes a national security risk for others," said Pahwa.

"There should be different rules for democratic countries and for authoritarian regimes where companies can act as an extension of the state," he added.

What is TikTok doing in response to potential US ban?

Since mid-March, TikTok has spent more than $5 million on TV ads opposing the legislation, including in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio, according to an advertising tracking firm.

The company is also attempting to counter the bill by emphasizing its investments in data safety, and the positive impacts it has on the lives of content creators and small businesses who rely on it for income and have fostered a community on its platform.

What do Americans think about a TikTok ban?

Data from a February 2024 AP-NORC poll shows that Americans have mixed views about whether the video-sharing app should even operate in the country.

Some 31% of U.S. adults surveyed said they would favor a nationwide TikTok ban, while 35% said they would oppose. Another 31% said they neither favor nor oppose a ban.

Among those who use TikTok at least daily, 73% of those surveyed said they oppose a national ban.

The same poll also showed that 56% of adults surveyed said they would favor a TikTok ban on government devices.

The Associated Press and FOX 10 Phoenix contributed to this report.