- TikTok has publicly apologized to a 17-year-old girl whose account was suspended after she posted a series of viral videos about China’s mass oppression of Uighur Muslims.
- The app repeatedly said it suspended Feroza Aziz’s account for violating its anti-terrorism policy by posting a video of Osama bin Laden.
- Aziz told Business Insider that she used bin Laden’s image to make fun of Islamophobic comments she received as a Muslim American. Business Insider obtained the video, which clearly features bin Laden satirically and for less than one second.
- 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.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The teenager suspended by the app TikTok after posting viral videos about oppressed Uighur Muslims in China has accused the company of punishing her for what she said were lazy assumptions about Islam and terrorism.
Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, was suspended from her account on Monday, hours after she posted a three-part series condemning China’s mass crackdown on the Uighurs. The videos, which she disguised as makeup tutorials, went viral.
Hi guys, I made a video about the situation in China with how the government is capturing the Uyghur Muslims and placing them into concentration camps. Once you enter these camps, you’re lucky if you get out. Innocent humans are being murdered, tortured, raped, receiving shock therapy, and so much more that I can’t even describe. They are holding a genocide against Muslims and they’re getting away with it. We need to spread awareness. I know it might sound useless, what can spreading awareness and talking about this even do? What are we supposed to do about it? We have our voices and technology to help us. Speak to those who can help! The UN failed to stop this genocide in the summer, we can’t let that happen again. We can’t be silent on another holocaust that is bound to happen. We can’t be another failed generation of “what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve”. We are strong people. We can do this. Only if we try #muslim #islam #tiktok #uyghurmuslims #china #freepalestine
A post shared by Feroza Aziz🧿 (@ferozzaaa) on Nov 25, 2019 at 2:25pm PSTNov 25, 2019 at 2:25pm PST
TikTok has repeatedly denied suspending Aziz over the videos condemning China. Instead, it says she was suspended because she posted video featuring the terrorist Osama bin Laden on a previous account on November 14.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, which routinely purges anti-China political content from the Chinese version of its app. Numerous activists and news outlets have accused it of doing the same on TikTok.
It has since issued a public apology to Aziz and reinstated her account, but it continues to say the suspension was due to the bin Laden video.
TikTok has not provided any further details on the video related to bin Laden, despite multiple requests from Business Insider.
Aziz has since provided Business Insider with the video. It follows a popular TikTok format of listing men the poster was attracted to when they were younger, compared with the men they liked now.
—Alexandra Ma (@AlexandraMa15) November 27, 2019
Bin Laden’s image comes up for less than a second at the end the video, satirically tacked onto a list of more conventional crushes, like the singer Zayn Malik and the Bollywood actors Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra.
Bin Laden was there for “dark humor purposes” — as a way to make fun of the Islamophobic comments she received while growing up as Muslim American, Aziz told Business Insider.
“I’m sure that a lot of Muslims have been told that they should go marry a terrorist, that they would look good with a terrorist,” she said. “It sounds disgusting, but it’s true. This happened to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to other people.”
She added: “But I thought, why don’t I just make a lighthearted joke out of this? It would be comments that I’ve faced every single day … as a coping mechanism for any other Muslims out there that receive the same harsh oppression that I received.”
Aziz said that by removing that video, TikTok showed it had failed to understand her and misunderstood it as terrorist-related content instead.
“TikTok didn’t appreciate it, and TikTok didn’t understand what my message was,” she said. “I wasn’t saluting Osama bin Laden. I wasn’t preaching his views. I despise him. I despise everything that he believed in.”
“I don’t agree with any of what his beliefs are and what his followers’ beliefs are, and I don’t have any association with that. So TikTok did not understand my videos’ satire content.”
Aziz was not born when the September 11, 2001, attacks took place. She would have been about 9 years old when bin Laden was killed by US forces in May 2011.
“While we recognize that this video may have been intended as satire, our policies on this front are currently strict,” TikTok said in its Wednesday statement. “Any such content, when identified, is deemed a violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, resulting in a permanent ban of the account and associated devices.”
Despite TikTok’s public apology on Wednesday, Aziz isn’t convinced that the company suspended her over the bin Laden video. Instead she continues to believe it is because she stood up to China for the Uighurs.
TikTok in recent months has come under heightened scrutiny of how it handles politically sensitive content.
“Do I believe they took it away because of a unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine?” Aziz tweeted hours after TikTok’s statement. “Right after I finished posting a 3 part video about the Uyghurs? No.” (Uyghurs is an alternative spelling.)
On October 26, TikTok had removed from her old account another video in which she sought more media coverage of the Uighurs. The platform removed the video, saying it had violated its guidelines, but did not give further explanation.
TikTok has not responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on this video.
“I really doubt that TikTok is ultimately saying the truth about what’s happening here,” Aziz told Business Insider in a conversation that took place before TikTok’s apology.
“I think that something is going on and TikTok doesn’t want people to find out what’s going in China.”
—Alexandra Ma (@AlexandraMa15) November 28, 2019
Multiple news outlets have in recent months reported that TikTok employees remove or restrict content deemed “problematic” by the Chinese government — a charge the company has vehemently denied.
Chinese tech companies often comply with government orders to censor content and can hand over personal data and private conversations without having to notify users.
ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is trying to separate the US app from its Chinese operations.
A leaked excerpt from TikTok’s new moderation guidelines, published by the German news site Netzpolitik last Saturday, included instructions not to promote videos related to political protest.
TikTok has not responded to Business Insider’s requests for comment on the document’s contents but did not deny its authenticity.
Aziz’s videos are part of a growing trend of TikTok users using the platform’s short-form videos for political protest.
This summer, dozens of Uighurs living in Xinjiang posted videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, appearing to show old family photos with footage edited to show themselves crying or gesturing.
It was most likely the first time Uighurs in the region were able to communicate with the outside world amid the crackdown.