Does TikTok Censor Posts?
American TikTok user Feroza Aziz claims that TikTok censored her account for speaking out against Chinese human rights violations. Is this true? Could this China-owned company be used to further a Chinese political agenda?
We’re all familiar with TikTok now.
In case you aren’t, it’s a short video sharing platform that pushes videos like this to fame:
And now, meet Feroza Aziz.
She is 17 years old, and she creates makeup tutorial videos on TikTok that aren’t exactly about makeup.
Take a look below:
Her video starts with how to use an eyelash curler, and then she says, “Then you’re going to put [the eyelash curler] down and use your phone … to search up what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating families from each other, kidnapping them, murdering them, raping them, forcing them to eat pork, forcing them to drink, forcing them to convert.”
She continues, “This is another holocaust, yet no one is talking about it. Please be aware, please spread awareness and yeah… so you can grab your lash curler again…”
This video is one of a three part series that has gone viral on social media for criticising the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority.
The other two videos can be seen below:
Her videos, originally posted on TikTok and then reposted to Twitter and Instagram, can no longer be found on Tiktok.
Why? Because, according to Feroza, her videos, and her original account has been deleted by the platform, because she spoke out against China.
Her profile description on TikTok reads:
In one of the videos above, she says, referring to the fact that her political messages are couched in makeup tutorials, “By the way I say this so TikTok doesn’t take down my videos.”
So is TikTok removing users and censoring political content that speaks out against the Chinese agenda?
Maybe. But not in a way that makes it obvious.
The platform has been quite open with media outlets. Speaking to CNBC, a TikTok spokesperson said, “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities. A previous account belonging to this user had been banned after she posted a video of Osama Bin Laden, which is a violation of TikTok’s ban on content that includes imagery related to terrorist organizations. Another account of hers, @getmefamouspartthree, and its videos – including the eyelash video in question – were not affected and the video continues to receive views.” The same carefully crafted statement was issued to BBC, the New York Times, and other news outlets.
The Guardian reports that, in leaked moderation guidelines, the company did not mention Xinjiang directly but banned “highly controversial topics, such as separatism, religion sects conflicts, conflicts between ethnic groups, for instance exaggerating the Islamic sects conflicts”.
TikTok has had always stood on a platform of free sharing and no censorship, unless on grounds of obscenity. This, in itself, has raised concerns to the extent where the Madras High Court briefly banned the download of the app, on the grounds of the possibility of child pornography being shared. In response at the time, TikTok had said that they have employed technology to ensure that nude/obscene content cannot be uploaded via the app. In an earlier statement, TikTok’s owner Bytedance announced that the company had been removing or banning content that classified as obscene from the platform since July 2018.
And was Feroza’s content censored?
How does this matter?
One thing is clear - TikTok is a tech behemoth. Any platform with such a diversity of users will have diverse, critical and sometimes divisive content.
Could the power of the platform, and the sheer number of users be used to drive one particular political ideology to the front? Absolutely.
Could TikTok be used as a driver for the Chinese political juggernaut? Most definitely.
Is it being used like this? We are yet to see.