Seventeen-year-old Feroza Aziz posted a TikTok video promising to show viewers how to get longer eyelashes, instead, she abruptly changed the topic to discuss something far more serious.
Disguised as a makeup tutorial, the true purpose of Aziz’s video was to spread awareness and educate the viewers on the disturbing conditions Muslims face in Chinese detention camps.
“Hi guys I’m going to teach you guys how to get long lashes, so the first thing you need to do is grab your lash curler, curl your lashes, obviously,” the New Jersey-based high school Junior said as she started her video.
“Then you’re gonna put them down and use your phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China,” the young TikTok user said as she changed the tone of the video.
“How they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating their families from each other, kidnapping them, murdering them, raping them, forcing them to eat pork, forcing them to drink, forcing them to convert to different religions, if not, or else, they’re gonna, of course, get murdered.
“People that go into these concentration camps don’t come back alive, this is another holocaust yet no one is talking about it,” she continued.
Aziz was referring to the deeply disturbing events unfolding in Xinjiang, a region home to Turkic Muslim minorities such as Uyghurs. The Chinese government has continued to insist that these camps were actually job-training centers where residents can gain language and vocational schooling to help them better assimilate into local societies.
The series of leaked documents published by the New York Times, however, shows a far darker reality involving mass roundups, forced separation of families, religious persecution, including the stories of one woman who had to submit herself for sterilization.
The short video began going viral, quickly garnering thousands of views and likes. However, Aziz revealed to The Washington Post that her account was quietly suspended in just a few hours, leaving her unable to access her account without a clear explanation.
TikTok is currently owned by Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, who purchased the karaoke app Musical.ly in 2017 for roughly $1 billion and merged the two together, automatically migrating all Musical.ly accounts to TikTok.
TikTok’s head of the U.S. trust and safety team Eric Han told The Washington Post that, “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities and did not do so in this case.”
Han insists that Aziz’s account was suspended due to a separate issue concerning a video that was posted under a previous account, in which Aziz supposedly referenced Osama Bin Laden in a way that had violated the company’s rules regarding the promotion of terrorist content.
The video in question reportedly only shows bin Laden’s face for less than a second and is the punchline of a humorous video.
“As Muslims, we’re ridiculed every day, so that was me making a joke to cope with the racism we face on a daily basis,” she told The Post. “I’ve been told to go marry a terrorist, go marry bin Laden, so I thought: ‘Let me make a joke about this. We shouldn’t let these things get to us.’”
TikTok officials have stated that Aziz’s most recent viral video is still available online and that she had used a phone that was connected to the previous ban, which is why her current account had been suspended. They claim Aziz’s account should still be accessible on other devices.
In response, the 17-year-old has described the explanation to be “very suspicious” seeing as her account was only suspended after the viral lash-curling video in which she criticized the home country of the company.
Kate Klonick, assistant professor at St. John’s University School of Law, echoed Aziz’s sentiments, speaking of the potential dangers of tech giants who refuse to be transparent regarding their practices.
“It’s completely at the whim of these giant tech companies [as to] what they decide to tell us, and we have no way to fact check their account of things,” she told The Post. “There’s no outside mechanism of enforcement.”
“We want to be protected from certain kinds of content … like terrorists using Osama bin Laden’s face to propagandize radical Islam. But at the same time it’s critical to have access to that kind of bad content in order to critique it, or make fun of it, or tear it down, or use it to build culture,” she commented.
TikTok has been the cause of concern for many lawmakers in Washington who fear the Beijing-based company could affect the privacy and free speech of Americans. Although members of Congress attempted to hold a congressional hearing for TikTok executives, officials of the app refused to attend.
Former employees of the company reportedly told The Post that they were “instructed to follow guidelines set by Chinese moderators and remove social or political content that would have been easily accepted elsewhere around the Web.”
Although TikTok has stated that its audience members prefer to use their app for entertainment purposes rather than political debates, the popularity of Aziz’s video and those like it show that many young viewers are increasingly turning to the popular video app to discuss political and current events.
This pattern has caused concern over how the company will uphold free speech in countries outside of China, particularly discussions on its platform raising issues regarding the Chinese government.
Feature Images via @getmefamouspartthree