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Popular Youth App Tik Tok Censors Users On Orders From Chinese Government

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The Chinese owned social media company TikTok removed a video of 17-year-old Feroza Aziz which was criticizing the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs. The Uighurs are an Indigenous Muslim ethnic minority in the Northwestern part of China. Over 1 million Uighurs have been placed into concentration camps as reported by international media using information from stolen Chinese government state secret documents. The Uighurs are suffering arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment in the concentration camps.

The video by Aziz began racking up millions of views for a political statement disguised as a makeup tutorial.   It was a 40-second video where she calmly talked about China’s internment of the Uighurs.  Aziz calls the facilities where Uighurs are believed to have been detained and forced to undergo state-sanctioned indoctrination “concentration camps” and urges users to research the subject online. She said, “this is another Holocaust, yet no one is talking about it.”

Among Canadian politicians, the principal customer of TikTok is Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP. He used the potentially censored platform throughout the last federal election in 2019. TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, is known to be under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party and will censor topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the unrest in Hong Kong. Under Chinese law, all citizens can be called upon at any moment to help with “national intelligence work.” It was noted at a recent event on November 20 held by the MacDonald-Laurier-Institute in Ottawa by panelists that the Chinese government will use all means to control media and social media to ensure a positive message are heard by citizens. 

TikTok eventually reposted the video after questions by western media outlets. There are major security and freedom of speech concerns of the United States government though because of ongoing censorship by the Chinese government. In early November of 2019, the U.S. government launched a national security review of TikTok’s owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion US acquisition of the U.S. social media app Musical.ly.

TikTok is wildly popular among North American teenagers at a time of growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology transfers. About 60 percent of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said this year.

U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Tom Cotton asked for a national security probe. They are warning that TikTok’s collection of user data, and censorship of US users could be exploited by the Chinese government. TikTok could also be a target of foreign influence campaigns. “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Schumer and Cotton wrote to Joseph Macguire, acting director of national intelligence.