An English-language news app connected to major Western media sources routinely censored references to Tibet, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and other key words deemed politically sensitive by the app’s Chinese owners, sources say.
News Republic, a news aggregating program founded in France but owned by China’s TikTok social media company, had partnered with news organizations like the BBG, USA Today, and the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers, an article in the Telegraph said on Aug. 24.
“News Republic filtered tens of thousands of news stories every day,” removing any mention of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, or “freedom of the press,” the Telegraph said, adding that the news app is now “shuttered in U.S. markets.”
Regarded by Chinese leaders as a separatist, the present Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 Tibetan national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country in 1950.
China’s government has already been censoring politically sensitive words on TikTok, WeChat, and other social media platforms for years, Wangden Kyab, a senior researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based human rights group Tibet Watch.
“I have been communicating with many Tibetans in Tibet, and most of them have told me that restrictions and censorship have become extremely severe,” Kyab said.
“There are many online police monitoring the content on these digital platforms, and news items related to Tibet and Xinjiang are specifically censored,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Aug. 6 issued a ban on U.S. transactions with the Chinese firms ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, owner of WeChat, citing a security threat posed by the transfer of data belonging to U.S. citizens to China.
"The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," Trump said in the order targeting TikTok, noting that the app has been downloaded more than 175 million times in the U.S.
The order also highlighted reports that the app censors content China deems politically sensitive, including protests over issues of autonomy in Hong Kong and Tibet and Beijing’s abuses of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and said it could be used to spread disinformation to benefit the CCP.
Reported and translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.