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This article was published on February 10, 2021

The mysterious tale of India’s TikTok ban and a flower picture getting 75M daily hits

The mysterious tale of India’s TikTok ban and a flower picture getting 75M daily hits
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

India banned TikTok and 59 other Chinese apps last year. This gave birth to a bunch of other short video apps that have expanded rapidly and receive millions of hits every day.

But there’s something else that gained a ton of traffic after the TikTok ban: a picture of a flower on Wikimedia. This image picture received more than 75 million daily hits — almost 20% of Wikimedia’s requests for images.

You may have important questions such as “what the fuck?” and “how the fuck?” — let me explain how this happened.

It came to the fore when someone from the Wikimedia team reported the bug andthen everyone got hooked onto it. The team and the Hacker News community began to dig around to find the cause.

 

Hours before the team closed the bug, it identified that this high number of requests were coming from a single Indian social media app. In a comment later, the team said that the app gained popularity around TikTok’s ban, and that’s when a high number of requests began hitting Wikimedia’s servers.

Intriguingly, while the app references the image, it doesn’t display the picture anywhere in the interface. However, every time anyone opens a fresh instance of the app, it made the request to the Wikimedia server.

As many commentators on the thread noted, this was probably a classic case of copying a code snippet from StackOverflow, a site for programming related discussions. This picture of the flower appears in quite a few examples on the site, and app makers probably just pasted the code without making any changes to it.

Sadly, we still don’t have the name of the app. We have reached out to Wikimedia for a comment, and we’ll update this mystery if we hear back. For now, the site’s servers can breathe easy.

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