The Chinese government appears to be blocking footage of the protests in Hong Kong from appearing on its video-sharing app TikTok.
As noted by The Washington Post, a search for some of the most popular Hong Kong-related hashtags on Twitter failed to produce a single video on TikTok.
TikTok is a Chinese-built app that was launched in China under the name “Douyin” in 2016 and released to the rest of the world in 2017. TikTok has been downloaded on 1.3 billion phones throughout the world, including 110 million in the United States.
When asked about its “purported independence from censors in Beijing,” by the Post, TikTok owner ByteDance released a statement claiming its app is “a place for entertainment, not politics.”
This claim is far from the truth. While TikTok is known for pop culture references and cute cat videos, people regularly use the app to send political messages.
In recent months, Douyin has been used to share videos related to the troubling situation in Xinjiang – where Uighur Muslims are persecuted, surveilled, and sent to concentration camps. Most of these videos are detected by authorities and deleted.
Considering TikTok’s popularity, it is virtually impossible that no videos of the protests in Hong Kong have been shared – even if users are afraid of being captured by Chinese authorities.
As noted by Futurism author Natalie Coleman, this is a “terrifying example of how social media can be manipulated as a form of social control.”
As we find out more about TikTok, researchers worry the app could bring Chinese-style censorship to American audiences and shape the way people understand current events.
Rohan Midha, who manages British marketing firm PMYB, describes TikTok as a “massively untapped platform that organizations can use to change the perceptions of a massive audience.” Most TikTok users are “quite young,” continues Midha, “so you can reach a young demographic who it might be easier to shape their perceptions outright.”
This is what totalitarian states can do. They can re-write history.
Of course China is censoring TikTok. China doesn’t want the world to know about Hong Kong’s struggle for Democracy because they want to crush Hong Kong and absorb it into mainstream People’s Republic of China. And they certainly don’t want the rest of the world to know about the religious crackdown in Xinjiang.