TikTok’s censorship problem

1 week ago
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Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

As we noted last week, TikTok, the hottest social media app among teens in America, is increasingly finding itself in hot water for its connections to its Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance. Company executives are insisting that they would never censor for China or share data with Chinese authorities.

The case of a 17-year-old American Muslim girl, Feroza Aziz, has made TikTok’s problems much worse.

  • Aziz posted a video, cleverly disguised as a makeup tutorial on “how to get long lashes,” that quickly transitioned into a PSA about China’s human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
  • “Use your phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there,” Aziz urged her viewers.
  • The video had amassed half a million likes by the time Aziz found her account suspended, for unclear reasons.
  • Her account was later restored, but not before major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post had reported on the incident.
  • The video quickly went viral on other platforms like Twitter, where it can still be viewed.

Is it too late for TikTok to save itself?

Bytedance is now seeking to “ringfence its TikTok app” so that it can run independently from the parent company’s operations in China, and stem further controversy, according to Reuters.

But is it too late? Bytedance made its move into the U.S. market by acquiring another Chinese social media company, Musical.ly, two years ago. That acquisition did not attract controversy at the time, but last month, it was reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is conducting a national security review of the deal. Depending on the outcome of that investigation and other potential moves by U.S. lawmakers in Washington, Bytedance could find its room for maneuvering in the American market to be severely limited.

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