“It was a dark humor joke that he was at the end, because obviously no one in their right mind would think or say that.”
Last updated on November 26, 2019, at 2:53 p.m. ET
Posted on November 26, 2019, at 2:28 p.m. ET
A 17-year-old Muslim girl’s TikTok — which started as a makeup tutorial and bait-and-switched into a quick lesson on China’s Muslim concentration camps — went viral over the weekend.
People were outraged when TikTok banned Feroza Aziz, who is from New Jersey, days later. They said the app’s Chinese developer, ByteDance, was censoring views that went against the communist party there, reflecting the delicate balance the company finds itself in.
But TikTok told BuzzFeed News Aziz wasn’t suspended for that video, but another: One with a meme about Osama bin Laden.
“So, the first thing you need to do is grab your lash curler, curl your lashes obviously,” Aziz begins in the TikTok about China. “Then, you’re gonna put them down and use the phone you’re using right now to search what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there… This is another Holocaust, yet no one is talking about it.”
An estimated one million Uighur Muslims are currently being imprisoned in internment camps in northwest China’s Xinjiang region. The camps have been widely condemned by the US government and other nations.
In the camps, Uighur Muslim families are separated from each other, and those who’ve been imprisoned have reported being beaten and tortured, forced to study communist propaganda and sing songs of praise to the government.
On Monday, Aziz’s account was banned, prompting widespread outrage and accusations that the Chinese company was censoring criticism about China.
TikTok denied that Aziz’s ban had anything to do with her videos on the internment camps, but she still doesn’t quite believe it. “I still find it suspicious that TikTok took down my video right when my posts on China’s concentration camps were made. Doesn’t sound right to me,” she said.
The incident comes just a month after Congress raised questions about whether the Chinese app poses “national security risks.”
“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” wrote Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Tom Cotton. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”
Responding in a blog post last month, the company said they do not “remove content based on sensitivities related to China.”
“We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” the company said.
A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that Aziz had actually been banned for a different video — one that sexualized Osama Bin Laden, they said.
The spokesperson’s representation of the video was not entirely accurate. Aziz has posted about the dead al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks but in an interview with BuzzFeed News, she said the offending video was dark humor play on a TikTok meme — not sexualizing him.
“There’s a trend on TikTok where you post like, ‘the type of boys or girls I liked when I was little,'” Aziz said. “Mine was like, ‘I liked a lot of white guys, but now I like brown people,’ and at the end was [Bin Laden] as a joke.”
“It was a dark humor joke that he was at the end, because obviously no one in their right mind would think or say that,” she said.
In the TikTok, Aziz shows stills of the white male celebrities — such as Justin Bieber — she had crushes on in middle school. “Whatcha Say,” by Jason Derulo, plays over the short video as it switches to reveal she now has crushes on brown and Muslim celebrities, like One Direction’s Zayn Malik. The last photo in the video is of Bin Laden.
Aziz had not known why she was banned before her interview with BuzzFeed News, despite having reached out to TikTok to ask why.
“I emailed them about this, and they never got back to me,” she said. “I woke up on Monday and saw [I was banned], and was like wow, okay.”
This isn’t the first time Aziz’s account has been taken down or had videos removed, she said. She believes many of them got reported by other users, and her previous account was eventually banned too. (The video about China was posted on Saturday from a new account.)
“For my last account, I had multiple videos taken down, and all the videos taken down were my Muslim videos — me making jokes Muslims could laugh about, relatable Muslim content,” she said. “That’s just how TikTok is, there’s always people that report things.”
Aziz’s new account and videos are still up, but she said she cannot access her account from her phone. A TikTok spokesperson said it was because her device was banned the last time she had her account removed, but that her current account remains active — though not usable from the same phone.
All in all, it equates to an exceptionally 2019 story. Aziz said she’s frustrated and confused that she could get banned for what she believes was clearly a joke.
“Everybody has dark humor, and there are people on TikTok who post explicit things about murder and very intense stuff, and that’s not taken down,” she said. “My thing that’s a joke that my group can laugh at, that Muslims and brown people can laugh at, that’s taken down.”
Still, she’s also glad so many people now know about the human rights crisis in China.
“As a Muslim girl, I’ve always been oppressed and seen my people be oppressed, and always I’ve been into human rights,” she said.
“I’ve known about this [crisis] since 2018, and I’ve always talked about it, but whenever I talked about it, no one would care to listen,” she said. “Everyone just cares what people are wearing, what’s the new style, who’s the new YouTuber, who’s doing this. So I wanted to make a TikTok about it.”
“I just wish I could do more to help. I hope something can be done from this.”