TikTok apologises after suspending account of teen who criticised China's treatment of Muslims

Social media platform has blamed suspension on error.

TikTok: said video did not violate platform’s community guidelines
TikTok: said video did not violate platform’s community guidelines

TikTok has issued a public apology over an "error" that caused the company to suspend the account of a US teen who had posted a video about China's treatment of Muslim groups, including Uighur people.

The social media platform, owned by China's ByteDance, came under immediate criticism this week after it (temporarily) removed a viral video posted by the teen, which included a call to action for users to spread awareness on China’s detention of Muslims in internment camps in Xinjiang.

In the video, 17-year-old Feroza Aziz, posting under the account @getmefamouspartthree, begins by telling viewers to use an eyelash curler, before telling them to put it down and "use your phone, that you’re using right now, to search up what’s happening in China".

She goes on: "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. This is another Holocaust, yet no-one is talking about it. Please be aware, please spread awareness in Xinjiang right now."

In the days following the 23 November post, Aziz was suspended and the video was removed.

Aziz, who has said she is an Afghan-American from New Jersey, posted on Twitter that the move "wasn't the first time TikTok has tried to silence me", claiming that her account has been censored by the platform in the past.

The video’s removal has exacerbated concerns that the Beijing-based company censors content that goes against the views of the Chinese Communist Party.

In response, TikTok US head of safety Eric Han on Thursday (28 November) posted a blog on the platform's newsroom apologising for the suspension and "clarifying" the timeline of events.

In the blog, Han said that the viral video was removed on 27 November, four days after it was posted, "due to a human moderation error" and did not violate the platform’s community guidelines. He claimed the video was offline for a total of 50 minutes before being reinstated.

TikTok also claims that Aziz's account was suspended because she had posted a video on a previous account that included the image of Osama bin Laden that violated its policies against content that includes imagery related to terrorist figures.

"No China-related content was moderated on this account," Han wrote.

Han said that TikTok has "invested enormous resources in technology that can act as a first line of defense against content that is clearly in violation of our community guidelines", and that the second line of defense consists of human moderators who can "make mistakes".

"We acknowledge that at times, this process will not be perfect," he said. "Humans will sometimes make mistakes, such as the one made today in the case of @getmefamouspartthree’s video. When those mistakes happen, however, our commitment is to quickly address and fix them, undertake trainings or make changes to reduce the risk of the same mistakes being repeated, and fully own the responsibility for our errors."

He added: "We would like to apologize to the user for the error on our part this morning."

Aziz has rejected TikTok’s claims, tweeting: "Do I believe they took it away because of an unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine? Right after I finished posting a 3 part video about the Uyghurs? No."

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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