Content moderation goof meets public relations nightmare for TikTok in late November, 2019.
U.S. teen Feroz Aziz shared a viral clip criticizing China’s treatment of minority Uighur Muslims. Of course TikTok banned her account, but once the story got media attention, has now apologized to Aziz and said it would allow her to access her profile again. Very convenient indeed.
TikTok Censorship Appears Real in 2020
Feroza Aziz‘s videos protesting the Chinese government over its treatment of Uighur Muslims went viral. Then she got notified that her account was suspended. It’s not clear how her video went viral or fooled TikTok content moderation policies in the first place.
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.”
A US teenager’s TikTok ‘makeup tutorial’ condemning China’s treatment of Uighurs has gone viral.
Read more on the story here: https://t.co/kdiFdsWjty pic.twitter.com/7BtnfpZwJW
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 27, 2019
Due to the incident and global coverage Aziz is the Greta of the week. China has forced as many as 1 million Muslims into internment camps in the western part of the country, where they undergo indoctrination and interrogation designed to turn them into supporters of the Chinese Communist Party. Usually mention of that or Hong Kong would be impossible to be seen on cheerfully censored TikTok.
No Politics on Cheerful TikTok Please
The account of Ferrora Aziz was suspended shortly after her videos went viral, leading to further speculation on whether TikTok censored political content that might offend the Chinese government.
We’ve known for quite some time that TikTok’s censorship is Beijing run and thus goes beyond borders.
The 17-year-old who got suspended by TikTok after posting viral videos about oppressed Muslims accuses the company of lazy, racist assumptions about Islam and terrorism. TikTok has denied it removes content from the app over “sensitivities around China.” But it appears to have been caught in the act. Which surprises nobody.
Can Going Viral Work Both Ways?
She believes she was instead suspended for her videos raising awareness of China’s oppression of Uighur Muslims. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. In an era of micro videos and teenage influencers, how propaganda, censorship, misinformation and information control work are truly fascinating.
This isn’t the first time tik tok has tried to silence me about the Uyghur genocide. Here is the first video I made on my previous account that was deleted and taken down. Tik tok, I deserve answers. What are you trying to hide? I have reached out and haven’t gotten any answers. pic.twitter.com/7xEjkBRzv8
— feroza.x (@x_feroza) November 27, 2019
TikTok’s PR team nonetheless have little sense, in a blog post TikTok detailed a timeline of events which led up to Aziz’s ban.
In a video, Feroza Aziz accused Beijing of “throwing innocent Muslims in concentration camps” as well as kidnapping, raping and murdering them and forcing them to eat pork and drink alcohol. TikTok apologizing for the activist being banned is just incredibly silly.
UPDATE: TIK TOK HAS TAKEN DOWN MY VIDEO SPREADING AWARENESS ON THE UYGHUR GENOCIDE. THIS IS PROOF THAT CHINA IS USING TIK TOK TO NOT LET THE TRUTH BE SET FREE. CHINA IS SCARED. @realDonaldTrump is there any way we can discuss?
— feroza.x (@x_feroza) November 27, 2019
The case is a bit more than suspicious. It’s very possible Aziz does not represent an actual person, but rather a manufactured scenario by intelligence operatives in how to evade TikTok’s censorship and try to discredit the product’s issues around freedom of speech and Beijing based moderation.
Feroza Aziz can also be found on Instagram, and replicated her content across channels so if her TikTok material was banned or her account shut down she would have recourse. The story blew up immediately on global news channels such as BBC, CNBC, Business Insider, etc..
TikTok in recent months has come under heightened scrutiny of how it handles politically sensitive content, especially and obviously if it casts Beijing or China in a negative light.
TikTok’s PR team didn’t even reach out to Aziz apparently.
How do you call a video that pretends to be about one thing but is really about activism to undermine censorship? It’s called an Aziz.