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TikTok parent company ByteDance spreads Chinese propaganda: report

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  • ByteDance, the company that owns the viral video app TikTok, is working closely with China’s government to facilitate human rights abuses in China’s western autonomous region of Xinjiang, according to to a new report by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)
  • The report, titled “Mapping China’s Tech Giants,” looked at the way major Chinese tech companies were involved in state-sanctioned surveillance and censorship using artificial intelligence packaged as popular apps and websites. 
  • ByteDance was accused by ASPI of collaborating “with public security bureaus across China, including in Xinjiang where it plays an active role in disseminating the party-state’s propaganda on Xinjiang.” 
  • The company has been placed in the spotlight after it suspended the TikTok account of US teenager Feroza Aziz after she posted a viral video on the app criticizing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang disguised as a makeup tutorial. 
  • China has been accused of committing human rights abuses at detention centers in the autonomous western region of Xinjiang.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The company that owns the viral video app TikTok is working closely with China’s government to facilitate human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the western autonomous region of Xinjiang, according to a new report by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)

The report, titled “Mapping China’s Tech Giants,” looked at the way major Chinese tech companies were involved in state-sanctioned surveillance and censorship using artificial intelligence packaged as popular apps and websites. 

ByteDance, the parent company of viral video sensation TikTok, was mentioned in the report alongside other major Chinese tech companies including Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba and others, which ASPI claims “are engaged in deeply unethical behaviour in Xinjiang, where their work directly supports and enables mass human rights abuses.”

China has been accused of running detention centers and forced labor camps in Xinjiang. Interviews with people who were held in the facilities reveal allegations of beatings and food deprivation, as well as medical experimentation on prisoners.

China has acknowledged the existence of some “reeducation camps” but repeatedly denied any reports of abuse at its facilities.

In its research, ASPI singled out ByteDance and alleged it is acting alongside the Communist Party in order to enforce the country’s strict censorship laws. 

“ByteDance collaborates with public security bureaus across China, including in Xinjiang where it plays an active role in disseminating the party-state’s propaganda on Xinjiang,” the report said.  

ByteDance operates two versions of its viral video app — a China-based app called Douyin, and the global app TikTok.

TikTok is one of the most downloaded phone apps in the world and has already entered over 150 global markets.

Previous reports cited by ASPI indicated that “Xinjiang Internet Police” had a presence on Douyin in 2018 and created a “new public security and internet social governance model.” 

ASPI also cited recent reporting which said that China’s Ministry of Public Security’s Press and Publicity Bureau signed an agreement with ByteDance, which allowed ministry and police officials to have their own Douyin accounts in order to push ministry propaganda. The report also said ByteDance would “increase its offline cooperation with the police department,” though it was unclear what that partnership would entail. 

Representatives for ByteDance and TikTok did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

ASPI added that other tech giants, including Alibaba and Huawei, contributed cloud computing and surveillance technologies in Xijiang.

In October, the US blacklisted 28 Chinese organizations and companies for their role in facilitating human rights abuses in Xinjiang. And earlier this month, sources told Reuters that the US opened a national security investigation into ByteDance after its $1 billion acquisition of US social media app Musical.ly in 2017.

The company has been placed in the spotlight after it suspended the TikTok account of US teenager Feroza Aziz after she posted a viral video on the app criticizing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang disguised as a makeup tutorial. 

The company apologized in a statement published to TikTok’s website on Wednesday, saying that company stood behind its initial decision to suspend Aziz’s account but also added that its moderation process “will not be perfect.”

Xinjiang has a population of about 10 million citizens, many of whom are Uighur or other ethnic minorities, and in May, Assistant Secretary of US Defense Randall Schriver said “at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens” were detained detention camps.

Satellite images reviewed by the Washington-based East Turkistan National Awakening Movement earlier this month identified at least 465 detention centers, labor camps, and suspected prisons in Xinjiang.

And a recent leak of classified Chinese government documents known as the “China Cables” laid out a manual for exactly how the detention centers were to operate, from preventing escape by double locking all the doors to using a “points system” based on behavior that is linked “directly to rewards, punishments, and family visits.”

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