TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms among zoomers and young millennials. With the platform's short and fun video format, users can get pretty creative with their content, posting everything from lip syncs to Vine-style pranks. Or political protests masquerading as make up tutorials.
Feroza Aziz found her account suspended after posting a series of clever videos criticizing the Chinese government's mistreatment of Uighur Muslims. She's holding an eyelash curler at first, but quickly pivots to a much darker topic.
"Put your lash curler down, and use your phone that you're using right now to search up what's happening in China, how they're getting concentration camps, throwing innocent muslims in there, separating their families from each other, kidnapping them, murdering them, raping them, forcing them to eat pork, forcing them to drink, forcing them to convert different religions or else, they're gonna of course get murdered," she says in one clip. "People that go into these concentration camps don't come back alive. This is another holocaust, yet no one is talking about it. Please be aware. Please spread awareness and yeah."
The Chinese government has come under intense scrutiny in the past few weeks for its mass crackdown of Uighur Muslims. Not only is the marginalized community under constant surveillance, but a shocking number have been detained, and arrested from western region of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, where they remain an ethnic minority.
Aziz's post has generated a lot of attention and supportive comments, within hours of posting and also been shared across Twitter and Instagram. "Don't worry about the lashes young lady. But please run for office asap," one user requested.
Azis was defiant when her account was made inactive. "When tiktok suspends your account because you posted a video of spreading awareness about millions of muslims getting murdered in a genocide," she wrote in an Instagram post. "TikTok ain't slick. They're scared."
TikTok says Aziz was banned for a different reason. In a statement released to Business Insidera representativesaid the teenager was actually suspended because she had previously posted a video about extremism on a separate account. "TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities," they said. "In this case, the user's previous account and associated device were banned after she posted a video of Osama Bin Laden, which is a violation of TikTok's ban on promoting terrorists."
Unlike most social media platforms popular in the West, TikTok is China-owned and its corporate structure is opaque. It has become known for extreme censorship against anything that paints China in a "bad light." According to a recent report by The Guardian, the owners instruct its moderators to "censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong."
The report also cites that TikTok further bans a specific list of 20 "foreign leaders or sensitive figures" including Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, Mahatma Gandhi, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Kim Jong-un, Shinzo Abe, Park Geun-Hee, Joko Widodo and Narendra Modi. Interestingly the list does not mention Xi Jinping, the Chinese chairman. The controversial guidelines particularly came into question amid the current protests in Hong Kong, where mainland China officials continue to stifle its attempts at democracy.
TikTok reps, however, says that the guidelines are "outdated" and were updated in May 2019, as the protests in Hong Kong picked up. "The old guidelines in question are outdated and no longer in use. Today we take localized approaches, including local moderators, local content and moderation policies, local refinement of global policies, and more," the app developer behind TikTok told The Guardian. "We also consult with a number of independent local committees and are working to scale this at a global level, including forming an independent committee of leading industry organizations and experts to continually assess these policies."