TikTok apologises after video of teen highlighting Uighur crisis was removed

Bosses at Chinese video sharing app TikTok have apologised for temporarily removing a viral video highlighting human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province, presented in the style of an eyelash treatment guide.

The company admitted that the video by Feroza Aziz, who is aged 17 and lives in the US, was removed for 50 minutes on Wednesday due to a “human moderation error” after it was watched millions of times.

The video shows Ms Aziz curling her eyelashes in what initially appears to be one of the countless home-made beauty videos shared by TikTok users. However, rather than discussing lash care, she talks about how China is “getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating families from each other, kidnapping them… raping them.”

There are an estimated 1 million ethnic Uighur and other Muslim detainees being held in internment facilities in Xinjiang. Detainees of the facilities, which China describes as ‘vocational training camps’ have described widespread human rights abuses. Family members often say they are unable to contact their loved ones after they disappear into the camps.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, denied that its moderation process is influenced by any government allegiance or demands. However, in October US senator Marco Rubio said the app should be investigated for allegedly censoring content about protests in Hong Kong.

Since then it has been reported that TikTok was being scrutinised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee reviews foreign business acquisitions that could threaten the national security of the US. Fears about personal data use as well as censorship have been raised.

Eric Han, head of safety at TikTok US, said of the company’s content moderation: “We acknowledge that at times, this process will not be perfect. Humans will sometimes make mistakes, such as the one made today in the case of @getmefamouspartthree’s [Ms Aziz’s] video.”

He added: “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.”

Ms Aziz previously had a TikTok account suspended for breaching rules about terrorism-related content, by posting a comedy-style video about dating featuring the image of Osama bin Laden.

She told The Washington Post that she didn’t believe that the Xinjiang lashes video being removed was an innocent mistake. “TikTok is trying to cover up this whole mess,” she said. “I won’t let them get away with this.”

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