Tiktok Activism: Teen Uses TikTok App To Shine A Light On Persecution Of Uighurs In China

On 23rd November Feroza Aziz, 17, posted a seemingly innocuous make-up video titled “Why Won’t Anyone Talk About This?” on the social media app Tiktok. However, within the first few seconds of the video, she sets down her eyelash curler and urges her viewers to “use your phone to search up what’s going on in China” before detailing the Chinese imprisonment of its Muslim population in what she refers to as the ‘Chinese holocaust.’ The video went viral, receiving 2.4 million views on Tiktok, and millions more across other social media services.

Aziz is just one of the thousands of young people on Tiktok that have been using its unique content matching algorithm to raise awareness on a variety of issues, in what has been referred to as ‘Tiktok activism’. This may seem unusual given the app’s light-hearted and comedic premise, but Tiktok’s format which Crystal Abidin, a digital anthropologist at Curtin University describes as “the ultimate mishmash – with the performativity of Youtube, the scrolling interface of Instagram, and… deeply weird humour” has wide appeal, especially for younger users. When this format is combined with Tiktok’s localized recommendation algorithm, it encourages niche kinds of humour that perfectly lend themselves to activist practices.

In the past, Tiktok activism has created tangible change. For example, in August 2019 students in the Clark County School District used the platform to raise awareness of teacher bonuses that had been withheld by the school district’s board. These videos gained popularity and allowed the movement to pick up speed, culminating in both a salary and health fund increase for teachers.

However, whether this form of activism will prevent the imprisonment of Uighurs is debatable. Tiktok is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, and although the company claims that, “TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” several videos regarding the Hong Kong protests and Aziz’s own videos have been taken down before. However, at the time of writing, these videos have been re-uploaded with an apology from the app.

Nevertheless, Aziz’s videos have been successful in conveying information to a wider audience. Her uploads have had a ripple effect, with users from across the world posting about the same issue on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and more. At the same time, the comments on her videos are filled with questions on how users can help prevent the detainment of Uighurs.

In recent years, the Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim group from the Xinjiang region of China, have faced discrimination and imprisonment from the Chinese government. The implementation of surveillance systems and artificial intelligence to profile the Uighur minority in conjunction with the detainment of up to 1 million Uighurs in ‘re-education’ camps has garnered criticism from across the world in what has been referred to as the work of “Chinazis”. Numerous reports have stated that Uighurs are held against their will, forced to swear allegiance to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith. In order to stifle criticism, the Jinping administration has undertaken huge efforts to censor any information regarding these human rights abuses both within China and across the world.

Yet Aziz’s worldwide reach has proven that censorship can always be infiltrated. Whether that is through the use of Tiktok, Facebook, Twitter, or another social media app, the ability to spread awareness is more accessible than ever. There is no longer an excuse for ignorance or indolence in the modern age. Every like, share, comment, or upload counts.

In Aziz’s own words, “Our voices can do so much. Don’t have the mindset that you are powerless.”