UK Wing Of TikTok Swears It Isn't Helping The Chinese Government Oppress Uighur Muslims

from the but-would-you-swear-on-this-stack-of-little-red-books? dept

China doesn't have a problem with censorship. By that, I mean the Chinese government sees no problem with its ever-expanding censorship of speech it doesn't like. While China appears to have embraced capitalism, it hasn't embraced the democratic accoutrements that normally accompany a move towards a more free society.

The government doesn't like to be criticized, so it has engaged in several efforts to censor speech by people arguing for less censorship and a better government. These efforts have been greeted with some creative responses by citizens, but the government flips the internet kill switch on and off as needed, denying citizens access to something most people around the world consider to be as essential as tap water.

As if that weren't enough to keep speech in line, American companies and… um… sportsball concerns have cooperated with censorship efforts to appease the Chinese government with the end goal of accessing China's billion-strong user base.

The crackdown on speech is far more pronounced in one region of the country, where the government has targeted certain citizens -- more than one million Uighur Muslims -- with ever-increasing censorship, along with the killings and disappearings China has historically deployed against those on its expansive persona non grata lists.

A number of US companies have helped the Chinese government oppress Uighur Muslims. Unsurprisingly, a Chinese company is doing the same thing. TikTok, the social media upstart that has irrationally angered the Trump administration, has admitted its contribution to the government's persecution of its least favored citizens. This includes efforts made by TikTok's moderation teams located in other countries where one would (very hopefully) assume the Chinese government's demands are free to be ignored. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be the case.

At a UK parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday, Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok's UK director of public policy, was asked by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani whether the app had quashed content about the Uighur crisis in Xinjiang, where at least 1 million Uighur Muslims and other minorities have been detained in so-called "reeducation camps."

According to TikTok's UK director, it's policy of China-appeasing censorship in other nations is no longer a thing. But the explanation isn't very convincing.

"At that time we took a decision [...] to not allow conflict on the platform, and so there was some incidents where content was not allowed on the platform, specifically with regard to the Uighur situation," she said.

Supposedly, things are better now. All you have to do is trust TikTok's UK rep and your own eyes, I guess.

"If you look at the platform now and search for the term 'Uighur' on the TikTok app, you can find plenty of content about the Uighurs. There's plenty of content that's critical of China."

Sounds good. Or, at least, better. But requests for more detail by the UK government were greeted with vague reassurances that the new, more permissive policy has been in place "for at least over a year," but that as recently as "a couple of years ago," the UK wing of TikTok was still acting as an extension of the Chinese government.

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, has attempted to distance itself from the Chinese government and its censorship for a few years now. It operates a completely different social media service in China, putting a firewall between users located elsewhere and the Great Firewall the Chinese government has erected. But its home base is problematic. It's impossible to please both the Chinese government and its non-Chinese users who expect their content to be exempt from China's censorship efforts. The end result is, far too often, something that errs on the side of the Chinese government's demands.

TikTok isn't the security threat the Trump administration has frequently imagined it to be. (Well, it's no more of a threat to users and their personal info than several American companies…) But it is still a problem for users located outside of China, who expect their interactions to be unmolested by laws they're not obligated to follow.

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Filed Under: censorship, china, content moderation, free speech, oppression, uighur, uk
Companies: bytedance, tiktok


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Nov 2020 @ 5:02am

    Handy Rule Of Thumb: When a government SAYS they're not doing something, they probably are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Nov 2020 @ 8:36am

    What a sad state of affairs that these people are facing the next Holocaust and western governments are more concerned with being allowed to follow it on (Chinese) social media than doing anything to stop it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Nov 2020 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    "...western governments are more concerned with being allowed to follow it on (Chinese) social media than doing anything to stop it."

    Because there's jack-all they can actually do. The notable "leaders" of the free world (the US, still) are unable to even speak up about it - because the Uyghur liberation movement officially allied itself to Al-Quaeda (and latter on daesch/IS) which means the US of A has no moral standing to blame China no matter what china does. Not after Abu Ghraib, or other black sites still operating under the same rules.

    All China has to say, if the US opens up about it is "Well, sure, we can review, internationally, what rules should be in effect for everyone* when it comes to tamping down on terrorism. And the US will quietly sit down and pretend to be blind, deaf and dumb.

    Thanks to the Iraq war and afghanistan both China and Russia have had themselves a field day stomping all over any potential breakaway territory where you could reasonably claim terrorists existed. And the US can't do anything without ending up with a lot of egg on its face.

    But even if the Uyghur liberation groups hadn't consistently allied with the worst possible choices there's still very little the US can do about it. China has about two or three ways to bring the US - and most of the rest of the west - to their knees in a hurry, either by flooding the market with all the US state bonds China bought to finance the Iraq war and 2008 bailouts, thus dropping the dollar like a rock, or by suddenly not being the world's center of electronics manufacturing any longer.

    Even if the west could be compelled by its good conscience - which would be a first, ever, what would they do? China will not, within its borders, accept a people which refuses to fully acknowledge itself as Chinese. Hasn't tolerated this for 2,5 millennia. For China to actually stop what they're doing you'd need to push China VERY hard. With economics being a dead-end in that regard, it would fall to military might.

    So who wants to start world war 3?

    This is why realpolitik is so damn ugly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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