TikTok lifts bank on US teen who slammed China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims
TikTok has lifted its ban on an American teen who said she was blocked from the platform after sharing a viral video slamming China’s treatment of minority Uighur Muslims.
The app claimed that 17-year-old Feroz Aziz was banned from accessing her account due to association with a separate profile which posted a video that included an image of Osama bin Laden. It cited policies on terrorist-related content and said “no China-related content was moderated on this account.”
Owned by China’s ByteDance, TikTok has drawn the attention of U.S. lawmakers who are concerned that the company could be censoring politically-sensitive content deemed offensive to Beijing. The U.S. government is now looking into ByteDance over concerns that its 2017 takeover of Musical.ly poses a national security risk.
TikTok has also been blasted by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who claimed the app censored users posting about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Yet, TikTok has denied it removes content from the app over “sensitivities around China.”
China has forced as many as 1 million Muslims into internment camps in the western part of the country, where they went through indoctrination and interrogation designed to turn them into supporters of the Chinese Communist Party, according to a trove of documents revealed by the New York Times this month.
In a report last year, the United Nations referred to the western Xinjiang region of China as a “no rights zone” where Muslims are treated as “enemies of the state.” Beijing says it is fighting religious “extremism.”
In a blog post late on Wednesday, TikTok detailed a timeline of events which led up to Aziz’s ban and the temporary removal of her clip. The company said she uploaded footage of herself talking about the treatment of Uighurs in China on November 23 using a different TikTok handle.
The company further explained that it locked her out of that new account due to a “scheduled platform-wide enforcement” action. It said moderators banned 2,406 phones associated with accounts that had been blocked for breaching content guidelines.
“Because the user’s banned account (@getmefamousplzsir) was associated with the same device as her second account (@getmefamouspartthree), this had the effect of locking her out of being able to access her second, active account from that device,” TikTok said. “However, the account itself remained active and accessible, with its videos continuing to receive views.”
The clip in question, which has over 1.5 million views, shows the U.S. teen pretending to do an eyelash curling tutorial, only to then urge other TikTok users to “search up what’s happening in China.” In the video, Aziz refers to China’s treatment of the Uighur community as “another holocaust.”
On Wednesday, TikTok said, Aziz’s video was removed temporarily “due to a human moderation error.” The company apologized to Aziz for the incident and said it had decided to “override” the ban on her account.
“Our moderation approach of banning devices associated with a banned account is designed to protect against the spread of coordinated malicious behavior – and it’s clear that this was not the intent here,” the company said.
“This user can again access her active account (@getmefamouspartthree) from the device she was using previously.”
However, Aziz was unconvinced by the platform’s explanation for blocking her from accessing her account: “Do I believe they took it away because of a unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine? Right after I finished posting a three-part video about the Uyghurs? No.”
Since its launch in 2017, TikTok has racked up over 1 billion users worldwide. ByteDance runs the application in China under a different name — Douyin.