On 11 September 2020, 29-year-old Pradeep Poonia uploaded a video to YouTube under a rather strange account name, Whitehat Sr. Strange, because it closely resembled the name of WhiteHat Jr*, a popular edtech company based out of the western Indian city of Mumbai. Its aim is to teach young children how to code, promising six-figure salaries and a Silicon Valley future to its students.
At the time, Poonia says, he didn’t realise how his simple play on WhiteHat Jr’s name would land him in social media purgatory.
The video, titled “The difference between Byju’s and WhiteHat Jr” is a dramatic and comic expression of Poonia’s view of these multi-billion dollar businesses. It is over-the-top and involves two balloons, a pin prick, and a tacky sound effect. DIY dissent at its simplest.
What it doesn’t display is any logo, trademark or material that Byju’s or WhiteHat Jr might have proprietary rights on. So imagine Poonia’s surprise when, two days later, YouTube took down his video citing a “copyright infringement”.
This was only step one.
Over the next few weeks, YouTube removed six of Poonia’s videos from WhiteHat Sr and five from a subsequent channel he created on 18 September titled SafedTopi Sr. “Within 35-40 minutes, I saw that the videos I’d uploaded had been taken down,” Poonia tells The Ken over a phone call from his hometown Panipat, around 90 km north of the country’s capital Delhi. On his first account, Poonia received two “copyright strikes”, which prompted him to create the second channel. By 28 September, SafedTopi Sr had also received two “copyright strikes”. By midday on 29 September, YouTube had disabled his second channel.
For most of September, Poonia woke to a ban or a takedown from a different social media account. Exiled from YouTube, he moved to more community-driven platforms like Reddit and Quora, where he thought his questions about Byju’s’ business model or WhiteHat Jr’s coding quality would find more takers.
He claims his questions and posts created a stir there, and he was “moderated out” of Reddit’s main Indian channel r/India. His two Reddit accounts u/whiteHatsr and u/Whitehat_sr were disabled as well, on 15 September and 16 September respectively. Almost simultaneous to the YouTube takedowns. Questions sent to Byju’s and the moderators of r/India (The Official Subreddit for India) went unanswered. Quora India didn’t want to comment on specific instances of moderation on their channels.