Teen's TikTok video about China's Muslim camps goes viral

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Feroza AzizImage source, TikTok
Image caption,
Ms Aziz said she wanted to raise awareness about China's detainment of "innocent Muslims"

A US teenager's TikTok video clip accusing China of putting Muslims into "concentration camps" has gone viral on the Chinese-owned social network.

The post appears to be about beauty tips at its start - but the young woman then changes tack to ask her viewers to raise awareness of what she describes as a "another Holocaust".

Feroza Aziz later tweeted that TikTok had blocked her from posting new content, as a result.

TikTok has disputed this.

"TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities," a spokesman told BBC News. Although, Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, on which Ms Aziz's posts would not have appeared, is politically censored.

The company had permanently banned one of Ms Aziz's old TikTok accounts on, 15 November, for posting an unrelated video that had broken its rules on terrorism-related material, he said.

As an additional measure, it had then blocked her smartphone, on 25 November, but that too had been unrelated to her posts about China.

"Her new account and its videos, including the eyelash video in question, were not affected and continue to receive views," the spokesman added.

BBC News has contacted Ms Aziz and her family for comment.

For its part, the Chinese government has consistently said the camps in question offer voluntary education and training, despite evidence to the contrary.

Ms Aziz posted three videos about China's treatment of the Uighur Muslims, between Sunday and Monday.

The first has been watched more than 1.4 million times and "liked" nearly 500,000 times on the app.

A copy uploaded to Twitter by other TikTok users has attracted a further five million views.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

And further copies have been posted to YouTube and Instagram.

Part of the videos' appeal is they are presented as a deliberate attempt to circumvent supposed censorship by TikTok's Beijing-based owner, Bytedance.

Ms Aziz bookends her critical comments with talk about to make eyelashes look longer.

"I say that so TikTok doesn't take down my videos," she explains in one of the recordings.

Media caption,
"An electric baton to the back of the head" - a former inmate described conditions at a secret camp to the BBC

While the version of TikTok used in mainland China does censor criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, the company says it does not take the same action against posts to the separate library of user-generated content it offers elsewhere.

And it notes other clips about the mistreatment of Uighurs within Chinese camps have been allowed to remain on its international platform, although they do not tend to get anywhere close to the amount of attention Ms Aziz has generated.

The 17-year-old's videos were posted the same week BBC Panorama revealed how leaked documents detailed some of the measures used to brainwash hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.

They undermine China's claims attendance at the camps is voluntary and designed to counter extremism.

China's UK ambassador has dismissed the documents as "fake news".

Media caption,
China’s UK ambassador: "This is a pure fabrication"

Ms Aziz provides her own list of abuses.

"Spreading awareness does wonders," she says.

"We can reach millions across the world [and] reach those with the power to do something about it."

The BBC has also confirmed that Ms Aziz is in control of a Twitter account created earlier this month. She has tweeted that TikTok has given her a one-month suspension and said that "China is terrified of the news [about the camps] spreading".

Others have picked up on her posts, including a member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, who called Ms Aziz's use of TikTok "creatively subversive".


Image source, Reuters

By Kerry Allen, China media analyst

Any apps that operate within mainland China need to be approved by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Social networks recognise they are not allowed to operate unless they comply with local guidelines - and that means ensuring any content on their platform paints the government in a positive light.

TikTok, known locally as Douyin, is heavily filtered.

For example, in April 2018, it censored all mentions of British cartoon character Peppa Pig, concerned she was being used as a symbol of rebellion.

But the Chinese government is not concerned about, and has less control over, filtering content on the version offered overseas.

And in October this year, TikTok denied it screened anti-China content on its international app, saying all its US user data was stored in the United States, with a back-up in Singapore.