A video showing Free Tibet activists wearing ‘Where Is Peng Shuai?’ t-shirts being searched by a security team at the Wimbledon tennis championships has been removed by the Chinese-owned social media site TikTok. On 11 August, we received notification that the video, which has been on the site since July, had been taken down for ‘violating [TikTok’s] Community Guidelines’ on the grounds of ‘bullying and harassment’. We were also warned that ‘further violations’ would result in a permanent ban.
Our video of Free Tibet staff being stopped & searched by Wimbledon security has been removed by TikTok.
TikTok said the video ‘violated Community Guidelines’ & warned that repeat violations could result in being temporarily blocked or even permanently banned from the platform. pic.twitter.com/rvMH6sANxH
— Free Tibet (@freetibetorg) August 16, 2022
The incident shown in the video received international media coverage and brought renewed attention to the plight of Peng Shuai. The Chinese tennis player and former Wimbledon champion was detained in 2021 after accusing a senior Chinese government official of sexual assault. Since then she has only been seen with government minders and in carefully controlled environments. The Women’s Tennis Association says it is still concerned about her welfare and has cancelled all tournaments in China.
TikTok, which has over one billion users worldwide, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that insists it is independent of the Chinese government. However, every Chinese company, including ByteDance, must, by law, have a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee within it and these are often used to influence companies. Companies must all share any information that the CCP asks for – including about users outside of China.
When Free Tibet set up our TikTok account in 2020, we were not initially allowed to use the handle “@freetibet’, despite there being no other account using the name. The username ‘@dalailama’ was also mysteriously unavailable, suggesting there may be a ‘black list’ of banned words and usernames on the site. We were eventually allowed to use the name ‘@freetibet’, but the support team would not say why it wasn’t available in the first place.
Given that videos of our protest at Wimbledon are still available on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and that the only people being harassed are the activists in the video, we believe that the decision to take down the video from TikTok may be politically motivated and be further proof of the influence the Chinese government has over TikTok. We will be appealing the removal of the video and asking TikTok to reinstate it.
You can follow Free Tibet on TikTok here.