The popular video app TikTok apologized this week to a teen user after it said it erroneously blocked access to her account and removed one of her videos criticizing Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Feroza Aziz, 17, on Saturday uploaded what at first appears to be a beauty video but turns out to be her listing the harsh conditions the minority group has faced in China.
The video, as of Wednesday, had garnered more than 1.5 million views, but within days of posting, Aziz could not access her account and the video was briefly taken down.
Aziz tweeted Monday that TikTok had “suspended my account for trying to spread awareness” and tweeted Wednesday that the video was removed and alleged that China was using the app “to not let the truth be set free.”
TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance and has previously come under scrutiny for not showing any information on the Hong Kong protests. A report published in late September by the Guardian found that its moderators were told to censor references to Tienanmen Square and Taiwanese and Tibetan independence.
China has been accused of many human rights violations against Uighur Muslims, including detaining them in internment camps.
In a blog post apologizing to Aziz, Eric Han, the head of safety at TikTok US, said that Aziz could not access her account because it was linked to another account of hers that had been banned earlier this month for posting an image of Osama bin Laden, which violated the app’s policies against using imagery of terrorists.
Aziz created a new account, but the app had planned to enforce a ban Monday on devices linked to accounts sharing terrorist imagery, child exploitation and spam, Han said.
Han said that 2,406 devices associated with the accounts were banned, and because Aziz’s current account was associated with her previously banned account via her device, “this had the effect of locking her out.”
Aziz’s account remained active, Han said, but on Wednesday, her video criticizing China was taken down for 50 minutes “due to a human moderation error.” Han said the video was restored when someone realized the error.
Han said that TikTok bans devices that are associated with banned account “to protect against the spread of coordinated malicious behavior.”
“It’s clear that this was not the intent here,” he said of Aziz not being able to access her active account. Han said the platform is reviewing its moderation polices as it relates to both the incident with Aziz’s account and its broader enforcement efforts.
However, concerns have also been raised about TikTok and how it collects and handles user data. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., last month jointly sent a formal request to intelligence officials to investigate and provide a congressional briefing on the possible counterintelligence risks posed by the app.
Schumer also raised concerns earlier this month about the U.S. Army’s use of the app.
“While I recognize that the Army must adapt its recruiting techniques in order to attract young Americans to serve, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms,” Schumer said in the letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
As for Aziz, the teen was not convinced of the app’s explanation for blocking her access and removing her video.
“Do I believe they took it away because of a unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine? Right after I finished posting a 3 part video about the Uyghurs? No,” she tweeted.
Speaking with the Washington Post, she alleged that, “TikTok is trying to cover up this whole mess,” but that “I won’t let them get away with this.”
Contributing: Joshua Bote and The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller