When 17-year-old Feroza Aziz began her viral TikTok video, viewers expected tips on eyelash curling from a beauty blogger. But Aziz had a more important message, as she launched into a speech about China's Muslim concentration camps and the lack of attention being paid to this emerging issue.
TikTok subsequently blocked her phone from the social media platform but has now rescinded the ban, calling it a "confusion".
The video in question started innocently enough, with Aziz beginning a simple introduction to the art of lash curling. But before she put the curlers down she spoke about the abuses being faced by Muslims in Chinese concentration camps.
Aziz encouraged viewers to search for what's happening in China currently, describing how the country is "getting concentration camps and throwing innocent Muslims in there." She concluded by declaring, "This is another Holocaust, yet no one is talking about it."
While TikTok has now issued an apology, Aziz's phone was blocked from posting on TikTok soon after her video went viral. According to TikTok, the timing of this was purely coincidental, as they were undergoing blocking sweeps for terrorism-related content on November 25, and an earlier video of Aziz's had included a satirical Osama Bin Laden meme.
TikTok's Chinese developer, ByteDance has already raised serious concerns in the U.S. because of its ties to China and the potential it has to influence social media narratives and gain essential data on U.S. citizens. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer recently raised concerns that, through TikTok, the Chinese government could acquisition its collection of user data including messages, location, device identifiers and IP addresses.
The temporary banning of Aziz is likely to raise questions around speech and censorship online. Despite TikTok's explanation, this is something that TikTok has already been scrutinised for. A leak revealed by The Guardian in September outlined how content deemed unacceptable to China on the platform could be marked as a 'violation' or hidden from the main site, which reduces the social impact and spread of content.
It also isn't the first time that Aziz has been silenced on the platform. In a tweet last week the blogger revealed that a previous video about Uyghur genocide was also removed.
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
The issue of Chinese concentration camps and the segregation of Muslims in the country is only now being exposed by Western media, with at least a million people from China's Muslim minority currently being detained across the country.
By blocking Aziz from the platform, TikTok seemed to be sending a clear message about anti-China messages on the platform, although a spokesperson for the company told the BBC on Tuesday that, "TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities."
The timing, while allegedly coincidental, remains suspicious. TikTok's detractors will likely see it as another power play by a company, whose Chinese interests often conflict with the freewheeling, politically-woke landscape of social media.