Popular video-sharing app TikTok banned the account of a Chinese international student in the United States after he posted a video making fun of the Chinese regime, a decision he believes is a testament to the platform’s allegiance to the Chinese regime’s censorship rules.
TikTok is developed and owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance.
In early June, Zhou Jianming, who is currently studying in New Jersey, posted a video in which he mocks the Chinese regime with his remade lyrics sung to the Chinese national anthem.
He said it was a response to the Hong Kong legislature’s passage of a bill that would criminalize insulting the Chinese anthem in Hong Kong. The legislature is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
The video, which lasts 48 seconds, contains images satirizing Chinese officials and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mishandling of the current pandemic. “Kneel, traitors who want to be slaves,” Zhou sang while wearing a T-shirt with the bauhinia emblem that appears on the flag of Hong Kong.
In less than 24 hours, TikTok deleted his account, citing community guideline violations, according to an email sent by TikTok that The Epoch Times reviewed. The app also denied his request to appeal.
“It made me extremely angry,” Zhou told The Epoch Times, noting that he was using the U.S.-version of the app. “Since it’s operating in the United States, it should obey U.S. laws.”
U.S. lawmakers and researchers have long been critical of TikTok and other Chinese apps, amid growing national security concerns that such apps could collect data from U.S. users for the Chinese regime. The U.S. military and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as well as the Australian Department of Defense have stopped allowing employees to use the app due to such concerns.
Concerns about TikTok’s censorship emerged in November 2019, when the company blocked the account of a U.S. teen who posted a video criticizing Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang.
TikTok hasn’t clarified which specific community guideline he has violated, Zhou said. He believes Chinese pressure was likely behind the account ban.
TikTok didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
After he posted the video, online trolls on TikTok sent messages with death threats. One user said Zhou would be “torn into pieces the next time you step out the door.”
Other Chinese-affiliated apps have recently come under scrutiny. Video-conferencing app Zoom, which exploded in popularity during the lockdown as many began working from home, recently drew scrutiny from a dozen bipartisan lawmakers in June for suspending the accounts of three prominent activists, upon the Chinese regime’s requests. The company is owned by a Chinese entrepreneur and has research and development staff, as well as offshore servers, in China.
Chinese messaging app WeChat, according to a May report by digital watchdog Citizen Lab, fed into China’s censorship apparatus by monitoring its overseas users. The app is popular among Chinese immigrant communities.
Yearning for Freedom
Zhou said he has been at odds with his family on political ideology, who, he said, mostly believe what is said in the Chinese regime’s propaganda.
He, on the other hand, has been fascinated by the United States since the age of 13, when he found a photo of the U.S. flag, printed it out, and put it up in his room.
Since middle school, Zhou has grown to detest the ruling Communist Party and cringe at its brainwashing education, where, he said, “identical thoughts are replicated and forced upon all students.”
“This is an utter violation of personal rights,” he said. “What I’m thinking in my head is my personal freedom and my rights. What does it have to do with anyone else? How can others control how my brain cells function?”
While in college, he learned to circumvent the Great Firewall to access information blocked in the mainland: the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 1959–1961 famine that killed millions, and the Cultural Revolution. The more he read, the angrier he felt toward the regime for its “despicable wrongdoings.”
Now Beijing’s virus coverup has endangered the world—“someone has to have the courage to stand up and oppose its atrocities,” he said.
Zhou, currently working toward a master’s degree in computer science, said he has no plans to return to China.
“China under the CCP is like Nazi Germany. There’s nothing worth going back for.”