Video-sharing app TikTok apologised for blocking an American teenager’s account after she posted a video about China’s treatment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region that went viral.
In a statement, Eric Han, head of safety at TikTok US, blamed a “human moderation error” for the removal of 17-year-old Feroza Aziz’s video, which was disguised as a makeup tutorial and received millions of views across TikTok, Twitter and Instagram.
Han said: “Due to a human moderation error, the viral video... was removed. It’s important to clarify that nothing in our community guidelines precludes content such as this video, and it should not have been removed.”
In the video, Feroza curls her lashes while asking viewers to raise awareness about Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has been accused of sending a million Muslims of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities to internment camps, which it calls “vocational training” centres.
Han added that Aziz had been previously banned for posting a video with an image of Osama bin Laden, “resulting in an account ban in line with TikTok's policies against content that includes imagery related to terrorist figures,” and though it was satire, TikTok notes its policies are strict. It says Aziz’s latest suspension, however, is due to a moderation approach which includes “banning devices associated with a banned account.”
TikTok’s statement promised a review of moderation policies and a possibility to make exceptions for content intended for “education and satire”. “We are reviewing both the procedural breakdown in this incident, as well as conducting a broader review on our process, to identify areas where we can improve our practices.”
For her part, Aziz acknowledged her account has been restored, but doesn’t buy TikTok’s explanation. She tweeted, “Do I believe they took it away because of a[n] 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.”
TikTok has censored content in the past that is unfavourable towards Beijing, and the suspension of Aziz’s account comes at a time when China is on the defensive regarding its human rights record in Xinjiang.