TikTok apologizes for temporary removal of video on Muslims in China

The logo of the TikTok app is seen on a mobile phone screen in this picture illustration taken February 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 28 November 2019

TikTok apologizes for temporary removal of video on Muslims in China

  • The video was offline for 50 minutes, TikTok said on its website
  • China’s foreign ministry said it had no specifics of the case, when queried by Reuters about the incident on Wednesday

SHANGHAI: Social media app TikTok apologized to a user on Thursday for removing a video that criticized China’s treatment of Muslims, blaming a “human moderation error” and saying the images had been restored within less than an hour.

The controversy over the video, viewed 1.6 million times, comes as TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, faces an inquiry by a US national security panel over its handling of personal data, while US lawmakers fear it may be censoring politically sensitive content.

In the video she posted last week, the user, who identifies herself as Feroza Aziz, gave a tutorial on eyelash curling, while talking about how Muslims were being treated, and saying she wanted to spread awareness of the situation.

But on Twitter this week she said she had been blocked from posting on TikTok for a month, and on Wednesday posted that her viral video had been taken down, only to be restored later.

The video was offline for 50 minutes, TikTok said on its website.

“We would like to apologize to the user for the error on our part,” said Eric Han, the app’s US head of safety.

“Due to a human moderation error, the viral video from Nov. 23 was removed. It’s important to clarify that nothing in our community guidelines precludes content such as this video, and it should not have been removed.”

The TikTok user did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for additional comment.

China’s foreign ministry said it had no specifics of the case, when queried by Reuters about the incident on Wednesday.

But it added that it required Chinese firms to operate in a way that respected international norms and local laws and regulations, and hoped that relevant countries also provided a fair and non-discriminatory environment.

TikTok is not available in China, but ByteDance has a domestic version called Douyin.

The user did not mention Uighurs in the video, but said later on Twitter she had been referring to the minority ethnic group.

United Nations experts and rights groups estimate more than a million Uighurs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in camps in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, which has triggered international condemnation.

China says the camps are re-education and training centers.

ByteDance has stepped up efforts to ring-fence TikTok, popular with US teenagers and those in their 20s, from much of its Chinese operations, Reuters reported on Thursday.

In a timeline on its blog post, TikTok said it had blocked another account set up by Aziz that had posted an image of Osama Bin Laden which violated its content policies regarding “terrorist imagery.”

On Monday, it enforced a device ban on accounts associated with violations. This affected the new account from which Aziz had posted the eyelash curling video and sent from the same device, it said.

It said it had decided to override the device ban and was directly contacting her to do so.

Aziz confirmed on Twitter that TikTok had restored her account but said other past videos had been deleted.

“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 three-part video about the Uyghurs? No,” she posted on Twitter.


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.