TikTok confirms it banned ex NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom


Enes Kanter Freedom, the former NBA player known for his outspoken political activism against China, was banned from TikTok for 12 days before being reinstated on Thursday, when lawmakers were grilling the Chinese-owned company’s chief, the company confirmed Friday.

Freedom’s account was banned on March 11 after receiving several warnings that his previous videos had broken the app’s “community guidelines,” he told The Washington Post.

Freedom appealed the ban shortly after but was told that TikTok reviewers had determined his account would not be restored. On Thursday, TikTok reinstated the account while CEO Shou Zi Chew was on Capitol Hill to argue that Americans’ TikTok feeds are unaffected by China’s restrictive censorship rules.

A TikTok representative said the ban was an error made by the company’s U.S.-based moderators and that it does not remove content at the request of the Chinese government. They declined to say how the error occurred or what rules Freedom’s past videos had allegedly violated.

Since being reinstated, Freedom has used his TikTok account, where he has 362,000 followers and more than 6 million likes, to post about the episode. He said he intended to continue posting on TikTok, which he said China uses to “brainwash our people,” because he wanted to use “their own weapon against them.”

A TikTok representative said the ban was an error made by the company’s U.S.-based moderators and that it does not remove content at the request of the Chinese government. They declined to say how the error occurred or what rules Freedom’s past videos had allegedly violated.

Freedom shared screenshots and a screen recording that substantiated his claims. TikTok did not dispute the ban but said such mistakes are the natural consequence of an app with more than 150 million U.S. accounts.

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Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), who spoke with Freedom before the hearing, asked Chew about the ban during a heated line of questioning in which Pfluger also asked whether Chew supported genocide. (Chew said he did not.)

Pfluger said he suspected the company was “hiding information” and that the reinstatement had been ordered by the Chinese Communist Party, which the company disputed. Pfluger said the episode underscored the national security risks of allowing a company based in China to own one of America’s most popular apps.

If they are “the arbiter of what can and can’t be shown,” he told The Post, “they have the capability to shape messages. So what are those messages and how do they relate to the undermining of the U.S.A.?”

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Freedom, a Turkish-American player who changed his last name after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2021, has become a popular figure on the right due to his outspoken criticism of China and the companies that he argues have not stood up to its authoritarian government, including Nike and the NBA.

While playing in the NBA for more than a decade, he drew attention for wearing shoes with slogans including “Free Tibet,” “No Beijing” and “Stop Genocide,” a reference to China’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. In 2021, he was traded from the Boston Celtics and then released from playing, which he has argued was in retaliation to his China criticism.

Freedom has often used his social media accounts to criticize the Chinese state. After a Facebook post in 2021 calling China’s president Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator” due to the country’s oppressive policies toward Tibet, China’s government blocked all Celtics games from the Chinese internet.

Freedom has used his TikTok account in much the same way. One TikTok video from last April, showing strict coronavirus-control measures in Shanghai, remains online on the platform and has more than 200,000 views.

This dissident uses Chinese-owned TikTok to criticize China’s government

TikTok, like other social networks, uses an account-enforcement system to track rule violations and penalize repeat offenders. Instead of a “three-strike” policy, TikTok’s system applies different weights to violations based on their severity and bans accounts that surpass a certain threshold.

A TikTok representative said some of Freedom’s past violations were valid, but would not specify which they were and said the moderation error had improperly knocked his account over the line.

Freedom told The Post he had received warnings in previous months and did not know which video triggered the ban. His most recent visible TikTok video before the ban, on March 9, did not break any obvious rules and showed only female protesters in Afghanistan.

He showed The Post a screenshot of his TikTok account showing how a video he’d posted last year, showing cats tied in bags on a sidewalk in China awaiting execution, had been removed for an unspecified community guidelines violation. TikTok restored the video after questions from The Post.

Since being reinstated, Freedom has posted TikTok videos criticizing the company and calling Chew a “liar” and Communist Party “puppet” that have been viewed thousands of times.

Americans deserve a better message than ‘Trust us, TikTok is bad.’

Freedom said he is in Washington for meetings with lawmakers who are critical of China’s influence and that he attended a dinner Wednesday with lawmakers and Silicon Valley figures to discuss TikTok’s alleged national security risks.

Freedom said he had meetings scheduled Friday with members of the House committee on China. Pfluger said Freedom was invited into a markup session of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which hosted the Chew hearing, and that he received a standing ovation.

TikTok’s moderation system has been criticized for its “haphazard” approach to account suspensions even beyond political or China-related issues.

Freedom’s ban parallels similar criticism of TikTok’s enforcement actions, including the suspension in 2019 of Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old TikTok user who had criticized China’s detention camps.

TikTok also restored that account, blaming a moderation error. Aziz’s 164,000-follower account features videos about the Uyghur camps that have been viewed millions of times.

The TikTok platform in the U.S. features many videos discussing issues the Chinese government restricts inside its borders, including #Uyghur treatment (278 million views), the pro-democracy protests of #TiananmenSquare (18 million views); and #FreeTibet (13 million views).