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Suspended TikTok teen slams app for anti-Muslim prejudice

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  • TikTok 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 claimed 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, which TikTok badly misunderstood.
  • Business Insider obtained the video, which clearly features bin Laden satirically, and for less than one second.
  • She believes the real reason for her suspension was 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 whom TikTok suspended after posting viral videos about oppressed Uighur Muslims in China has blamed the company for punishing her based on what she said are 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, which she disguised as makeup tutorials.

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 PST

TikTok has repeatedly denied suspending Aziz over the anti-China videos. 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, 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 continues to say that 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 to the men they like now.

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 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.”

“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.”

feroza aziz tiktok uighur

Screenshots from Aziz’s videos protesting the Chinese government over its treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Feroza Aziz/TikTok


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 yet born when the September 11, 2001, attacks took place. She would have been about nine years old when bin Laden was killed by US forces in May 2011.

september 11

Women hold up a sign commemorating the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks one year later at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


Despite TikTok’s public apology on Wednesday, Aziz isn’t convinced that the company banned her over the bin Laden video. Instead she continues to believe it is because she stood up to China for the Uighurs.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, and has in recent months come under heightened scrutiny of how it handles politically sensitive content.

Aziz tweeted hours after TikTok’s statement: “Do I believe they took it away because of a 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.” (Uyghurs is an alternate spelling.)

On October 26, TikTok had removed from her old account another video where she protested the lack of media coverage of the Uighurs. The platform removed the video, saying that it had violated its guidelines, but did not give further explanation.

TikTok has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.

“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.”

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 currently 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.

uighur douyin videos

Videos of unnamed Uighurs appearing to commemorate missing family members on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok.
Douyin


Aziz’s videos are part of a growing trend of TikTok users using the platform’s shortform 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 likely the first time Uighurs in the region were able to communicate with the outside world amid the crackdown.

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