This piece was originally published in Persuasion.
In 2017, I was in China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang, investigating how China had erected the most sophisticated surveillance state ever with the help of tech companies from both China and America. An estimated 1.8 million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs, would be hauled away for such thought crimes as praying or showing insufficient loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a process enabled by AI and camera surveillance that monitored the population endlessly.
Later that year, I heard that a Chinese tech giant called ByteDance had expanded into America with a new app called TikTok. I knew the news was ominous.
The wholesale detention of the Uyghurs is considered the largest internment of a minority since the Holocaust. Uyghur internees in concentration camp conditions have faced systematic rape, forced sterilization, forced labor. In 2021, the U.S. State Department joined governments and human rights groups from around the world in declaring the detentions a genocide—and ByteDance is deeply complicit in it.