B.C. woman calls for accountability after TikTok humiliations almost drove her to suicide
Sharan Preet has been a TikTok user for a year and a half. For the Surrey, B.C., mom, the app is a source of entertainment, and a place where she can express herself and her Indian heritage.
“My song collection, my makeup, I like this,” Preet told CTV News.
But being on the platform almost cost Preet her life.
At the end of 2021, Preet became a victim of video manipulation. A small number of her videos were stolen by other users, who then replaced the sound with incredibly offensive songs.
The altered videos were then re-posted with a tag so Preet could see them.
“My heart, totally damaged,” she said, explaining the videos left her embarrassed and humiliated.
On Christmas Day, Preet attempted to take her own life. Her teenage daughter saw what was happening and stopped her, and when Preet’s husband arrived home they called the RCMP. Preet was then taken to hospital to be monitored.
Sandy Chatha is a former RCMP officer and currently works in law enforcement. She also uses TikTok, in part to help spread information, such as telling young people how to get a career in policing.
“It was a platform for sharing and also entertainment. Of course, that makes you feel good,” Chatha said.
In late December, Chatha started hearing from women whose videos had been stolen and manipulated. She’s since been in contact with 48 women around the world.
In most of those instances, the women have South Asian heritage, and many of the videos are in Punjabi. In Preet’s case, Chatha said the words in the altered video were “very explicit, humiliating, degrading.”
“They are describing sexual acts,” Chatha said. “Very detailed, very explicit. More so degrading to the woman saying, you know, you’ll be doing this, I’ll be doing that to you.”
Chatha said the language can lead to honour killings in some families.
Sukhwinder Dhaliwal from Kamloops became friends with Preet through TikTok. Last year, she was also a victim of video manipulation.
“When I first saw my videos I (was) shivering. Very bad, very bad language,” Dhaliwal said, adding she would be on the phone with Preet at 3 a.m. some mornings because neither of them could sleep.
Preet has since recovered, saying she is “strong now.” Both Preet and Dhaliwal said they will keep using the app, so as not to let the “bullies” win.
Chatha said she has made multiple attempts to get TikTok to remove the altered videos, without success.
“We’ve tried to report the accounts, tried to report the videos themselves for multiple things - harassment, bullying, pornographic content - and everything comes back as no violation,” Chatha said.
The platform offers advice for preventing bullying, and for users under the age of 16, accounts are automatically set to "private." But there are almost no other safeguards to protect user content.
Chatha has started a petition calling on TikTok to change its safety and security standards.
“We have to stand up together as women, as a society and push back and say this is not acceptable,” she said.
According to analytics company App Annie, TikTok saw the biggest growth in app usage in Canada in 2021, and was one of the top five social apps worldwide in 2021. Canadian users spent on average 22.6 hours on TikTok a month in 2021, according to the State of Mobile 2022 report.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.
- Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)
- Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)
- Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)
If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
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