Feroza Aziz started her TikTok video like a typical makeup tutorial, telling viewers she would show them how to get long eyelashes. Then the 17-year-old stopped abruptly, calling instead on viewers to start researching the harrowing conditions facing Muslims in China’s detention camps.
The surprising bit of modern satire quickly went viral on TikTok, the short-video app and global phenomenon owned by a Beijing-based tech firm. But in the hours afterward, Aziz’s TikTok profile was suspended. By Tuesday, she told The Washington Post, she remained unable to access her account.
The videos, and Aziz’s suspension, have quickly touched off a public debate about one of the world’s fastest-growing social apps, including over its approach to political issues and its support of free speech in countries outside China, where its parent company ByteDance is headquartered.
The episode has highlighted a signature challenge facing TikTok: Famous for its lighthearted memes and singalong videos, the app increasingly finds itself facing scrutiny due to its close ties to a Chinese conglomerate that must adhere to the country’s strict censorship rules.
TikTok has said it makes decisions about the content it surfaces and suppresses for US users independent from the Chinese government. But its past practices and limited transparency have fueled deep skepticism among lawmakers, tech experts and some of its users.
The popularity of Aziz’s videos shows how TikTok has increasingly become a new home for discussion of politics and current events among young viewers on the Web. But the suspension has fueled concerns over how TikTok will respond to a growing level of acrimonious debate and discussion of issues critical of the Chinese government.
TikTok has said its audience prefers to use the video app for entertainment, not political debates, and that its executives have pushed to preserve the app as a refuge for positivity online. To abide by that mandate, former employees told The Post they were instructed to follow guidelines set by Chinese moderators and remove social or political content that would have been easily accepted elsewhere around the Web.
TikTok representatives said Tuesday that Aziz’s account was not suspended because of her criticism of China and that the company “does not moderate content due to political sensitivities.” Instead, they said she had broken the rules by registering a new account: A previous account of hers had been banned, they said, because she had posted a video referencing Osama bin Laden that had violated rules about promoting terrorist content.
Aziz, who said she is a high school junior in New Jersey, told The Post she never got any explanation about TikTok’s penalties on her account. The video TikTok referred to, she said, was an obvious bit of dark humor, and involved her singing in front of a series of a men that she suggested were attractive. A copy she shared with The Post shows bin Laden’s face appearing, for less than a second, as the surprise punchline.
“As Muslims, we’re ridiculed every day, so that was me making a joke to cope with the racism we face on a daily basis,” she said. “I’ve been told to go marry a terrorist, go marry bin Laden, so I thought: ‘Let me make a joke about this. We shouldn’t let these things get to us.'”
She said she found it “scary” that she was blocked for making what seemed to her like a harmless joke. And she said she felt it was “very suspicious” that her account was suspended only after she posted viral videos criticizing the home country of TikTok’s parent company.
Eric Han, the head of TikTok’s US Trust and Safety team, said in a statement to The Post that Aziz’s account was banned after the bin Laden post earlier this month. The app’s community guidelines, he said, strictly prohibit any videos that “promote and support” terrorist organizations.
Aziz’s lash-curling videos, which reference the camps in China’s Xinjiang region, can still be viewed on TikTok, where they have attracted more than 500,000 views. “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities and did not do so in this case,” Han said. Reviews of video for moderation can be triggered by several factors, Han said, including if a video passes certain “virality benchmarks.”
Aziz said late Tuesday she could not access the account, and that TikTok has provided her no information about whether she can use the service again. When TikTok users have videos removed for violating guidelines, Han said, they are not told the specific reason but can appeal the removal. “Her previous account was banned, so we wouldn’t have had communication with her on that account,” he added.
Aziz’s other videos on TikTok resemble many of the unrestrained, boundary-pushing parodies that often go viral on the Web. In other videos, she jokes about marrying her cousin, living with a strict Muslim mother, and being profiled online as a terrorist. In one video criticisng TikTok as “racist,” she said she posts “relatable Muslim content, things that Muslims can laugh at.”
Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St John’s University School of Law who studies social media and free speech, said the incident illustrate the dangers when tech giants aren’t transparent about their practices – and aren’t regulated to be more forthcoming.
“It’s completely at the whim of these giant tech companies [as to] what they decide to tell us, and we have no way to fact check their account of things,” she said. “There’s no outside mechanism of enforcement.”
In doing so, though, Klonick said the struggle for an app such as TikTok is striking the right balance in what she described as the “paradox of content moderation.”
“We want to be protected from certain kinds of content . . . like terrorists using Osama bin Laden’s face to propagandize radical Islam,” she said. “But at the same time it’s critical to have access to that kind of bad content in order to critique it, or make fun of it, or tear it down, or use it to build culture.”
TikTok’s practices and its Chinese origins have raised alarms in Washington, where lawmakers and regulators fear Beijing’s heavy digital hand might affect Americans’ speech online and leave their personal data at risk.
Members of Congress led by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, sought to grill top TikTok executives at a congressional hearing earlier this month, though the social-media app declined to appear, further stoking lawmakers’ ire.
TikTok, which traces its origins to ByteDance’s purchase of the karaoke app Musical.ly in 2017, also faces an investigation by an arm of the US government that reviews such mergers for potential national security concerns.
Federal lawmakers had encouraged such a probe, and they’ve asked US intelligence officials to open an additional investigation to determine if the Chinese government might be able to force TikTok to turn over American users’ data. TikTok has said that it stores such information in Virginia and Singapore.
Aziz said she used the makeup routine as a way to get the attention of viewers who might otherwise ignore the news. But she said she worries about how TikTok’s rules could influence the kinds of information young viewers see online.
The suspension, she said, is “just another reason for me to speak louder.”
© The Washington Post 2019
TikTok Sale: Algorithm Question Said to Complicate Deal
Sale talks for TikTok’s US operations have been complicated by the key question of whether the app’s core algorithms can be included as part of a deal, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal that cited unidentified people familiar with the matter.
Those algorithms decide what videos users see without first requiring them to follow other users or specify their preferences. The Journal report stated the algorithms were considered part of the deal negotiations up until Friday.
That’s when the Chinese government introduced export restrictions on artificial intelligence technology that appear to cover content-recommendation algorithms such as the one powering TikTok. The move followed President Donald Trump’s effort to force a sale of TikTok’s US operations by September 20.
Those export restrictions mean that TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, would have to obtain a license to export any restricted technologies to a foreign company. The question is whether its algorithms would need Chinese government approval for transfer, and if so, whether Beijing would sign off.
The Journal report said both the prospective buyers and the seller, ByteDance, are trying to figure that out. Prospective buyers for US TikTok assets include a Microsoft-Walmart team-up and, reportedly, Oracle.
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TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer Quits After Three Months, Just as Firm Challenges US Ban
TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer has left the Chinese-owned video app firm just three months since joining, and only days since the company sued the administration of US President Donald Trump over an executive order effectively banning it in the United States.
He will be replaced by US General Manager Vanessa Pappas on an interim basis, TikTok said in a statement.
The resignation comes at a tricky time for super-fast growing TikTok as it tries to persuade both the United States and India that it is not a security threat, while at the same time holding discussions with prospective buyers following a second US order demanding the sale of its US operations.
In another development, former TikTok India manager Raj Mishra has been appointed by Triller as Country Manager and Head of Operations for the country. Mishra was the very first employee to be hired at TikTok India. In his new role at Triller, he will be leading and furthering the development of video-sharing app’s products, operations, and overall business goals.
“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” Mayer said in an letter to employees.
“Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”
ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming said in a separate letter reviewed by Reuters that the company was “moving quickly to find resolutions to the issues that we face globally, particularly in the US and India”.
He said Mayer had joined just as the company was “entering arguably our most challenging moment.”
“It is never easy to come into a leadership position in a company moving as quickly as we are, and the circumstances following his arrival made it all the more complex,” Zhang said.
ByteDance employees told Reuters they were not surprised by Mayer’s decision given TikTok’s unpredictable future, and also because the ex-Disney executive has not had a significant role in some important decisions as he was still new to the team.
Zhang has been the key person in TikTok sale talks, said two people with knowledge of the matter. But Mayer represented TikTok to discuss with senior executives of interested buyers just days ago, a third person said.
TikTok’s decision to launch a $200 million (roughly Rs. 1,478 crores) “creator fund” in July was spearheaded by TikTok’s former head Alex Zhu, though Mayer was also directly involved, said two of the people. The project was initiated internally much earlier than Mayer’s arrival, one of the people said.
“The learning curve was steep for him, from daily operations to geopolitical implications,” said one of the people.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
“Whether TikTok reaches an agreement to sell its US business or decides to duke it out in the courts, the role for Mayer will not be anything like that he had envisioned when he joined,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting in Beijing.
Mayer’s departure is not a great boost for company morale right now, Natkin said.
US India Challenges
Amid growing distrust between Washington and Beijing, Trump complained that TikTok was a national security threat and could share information about users with China’s government.
Trump issued an executive order banning US transactions with TikTok on August 6, effective in mid-September. He issued a separate order about a week later giving ByteDance 90 days to divest of TikTok’s US operations and data.
ByteDance has been in talks to sell TikTok’s North American, Australian and New Zealand operations which could be worth $25 billion (roughly Rs. 184,816 crores) to $30 billion (roughly Rs. 221,801 crores) to companies including Microsoft and Oracle, people with knowledge of the matter have said.
The company has also been targeted in India, where TikTok was one of 59 Chinese apps banned by the Indian government in June following a border clash between India and China.
That month, Mayer wrote to India’s government saying China’s government has never requested user data, nor would TikTok turn it over if asked.
TechCrunch reported earlier this month that ByteDance was in talks with India’s Reliance for investment in TikTok.
TikTok has become a global sensation since ByteDance launched the app in 2017, with operations in countries such as France, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia and Brazil. In April, the app hit 2 billion downloads globally.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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Social Networking Sites Market 2020 (COVID-19 Worldwide Spread Analysis) by Key Players …
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Leading competitors in the Social Networking Sites market:
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Leading segments of the global Social Networking Sites market with reliable forecasts:
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Different product categories include:
Global Social Networking Sites industry has a number of end-user applications including:
Global Social Networking Sites Market Regional Analysis:
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1. North America Country (United States, Canada)
2. South America
3. Asia Country (China, Japan, India, Korea)
4. Europe Country (Germany, UK, France, Italy)
5. Other Country (Middle East, Africa, GCC)
This study discusses the key trends within countries that contribute to the growth of the Social Networking Sites market as well as analyses the degrees at which the drivers are influencing the market in each region. The global Social Networking Sites industry report evaluates the present scenario and the growth prospects of the Social Networking Sites market in various regions globally.
TOC Snapshot of Global Social Networking Sites Market
1. Social Networking Sites Product Definition
2. Worldwide Social Networking Sites Market Manufacturer Share and Market Overview
3. Manufacturer Social Networking Sites Business Introduction
4. Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Region Level)
5. World Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Product Type Level)
6. Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Industry Level)
7. Segmentation (Channel Level) of Social Networking Sites Market
8. Social Networking Sites Market Forecast 2020-2027
9. Product Type Social Networking Sites Segmentation
10. Segmentation of Social Networking Sites Industry
11. Cost of Social Networking Sites Production Analysis
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