You can learn a lot from makeup tutorials — how to blend your contour, put on the perfect cat eye, or even, if you’re watching17-year-old Feroza Aziz, learn about the genocide against Uyghur Muslims in China.
On Saturday (November 23), the high school junior from New Jersey uploaded a video of herself in her bedroom holding an eyelash curler. “Hi guys, so I’m going to teach you guys how to get long lashes,” she begins, instructing her viewers to clasp their lashes with an eyelash curler: “Then you’re going to put [the curler] down and use your phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China.” She then details some of what Uyghur Muslims are being forced to endure in concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region.
Feroza tells MTV News she first learned about the plight facing an estimated 1 million people in 2018. “I found out through victim's stories, like Mihrigul Tursun, and through video evidence on Uyghur Muslim pages of Muslims being tortured,” she adds.
As NBC News reports, the Uyghur Muslim people, a local ethnic group, have been forced to endure surveilance and scrutiny by the Chinese government for years. The UN has called the situation “a massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy, something of a no-rights zone.” Chinese officials have denied these characterizations, and claim they’re trying to prevent “terrorism” and “extremism;” as Human Rights Watch reports, the country’s working definition of what constitutes such activities is pointedly vague.
“I really hope that my videos bring awareness to the Uyghurs. I don't want attention myself. I want the Uyghurs to get attention,” Feroza says. “We need to use our voices to stop this. We need the UN to step in and help these people. Millions of people are being tortured. This is a genocide and no one is talking about it.”
Feroza’s video, which she posted to her TikTok account @getmefamouspartthree, has received hundreds of thousands of likes since she first posted it; when she woke up on Sunday, she realized it had started to spread to other platforms as well. Several tweets containing the video, which has been viewed over 3.6 million times, have all gone viral — Feroza even started a Twitter account to keep up with the spread of the clip.
Co-opting a recognizable format served two purposes for the teen. “I realized that I could use a fake makeup tutorial video for the first few seconds to reel viewers in to then speak about the Uyghurs, which many people don't know about,” Feroza says. “If they knew that the video was going to be about a human rights violation, I'm not sure many people would have clicked on the video to watch it. And secondly, I realized that using the makeup trick would be a great disguise to protect my video from being taken down.”
“I did not know it would reach millions of people across all social media platforms, and I'm overwhelmed with happiness that it did,” she adds. “I knew that with all this attention, I had to do more. To hear about China's discrimination against Uyghurs was heartbreaking. I knew I had to say something. People need to know.”
But the spread of the video may have been slowed in part because TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, froze her account on Monday (November 25). She said this has happened to her before — she made her current account after a previous handle was banned for satirizing anti-Muslim bigotry; a TikTok spokesperson told the Washington Post that video triggered a ban because it broke rules about “promoting terrorist content.” According to the post, her new account was locked because the company detected she had been using the same phone as she did for a previous account, and that she’d be able to access her new handle from another device. “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities and did not do so in this case,” the company told the Post.
She tweeted on Wednesday morning that her account was working again. She told MTV News that she had never been “given a reason by Tik Tok for this suspension, nor have I been given a chance to appeal this suspension, as most accounts usually are.”
While TikTok typically markets itself as being an app for “positivity,” plenty of creators have found ways to educate their followers while simultaneously racking up likes. In October, a number of teenagers went viral for videos in which they danced along to their exes’ abusive voicemails, exposing a particular kind of domestic emotional violence that affects approximately one third of teenagers in relationships. A Nevada high schooler used TikTok to help her teachers get raises. And another viral video cleverly made a case for the redistribution of wealth as far as billionaires are concerned, given that Bill Gates could theoretically buy the entire NFL and have plenty of money left over for Super Bowl ads.
According to Feroza, using TikTok to discuss heavier and complex topics shouldn’t be considered an anomaly, especially given that she talks about world issues all the time with her friends. “I think TikTok can be used for anything, whether it be sports, makeup, politics, or fashion,” she says. “Hundreds of thousands of users are downloading the app weekly, so it could honestly help bring so many groups together. Normally on Tik Tok you see funny meme videos or lighthearted jokes,” she adds, but stresses that her video’s virality proves there’s an audience for humanitarian issues, too.
“My friends always tell me they know so much more about issues because of me informing them,” she says. “People need to remember that our voices matter and can change anything. It's up to us if we want to use them or not.”