Beijing [China] : Chinese tech companies appear to censor Uyghur and Tibetan by removing their languages from study courses as well as banning comments in them from their websites.
Public concerns about tech-enabled suppression of ethnic minorities have deepened, reported Protocol. As per Talkmate, a language-learning app that partners with UNESCO, posted via its official Weibo account that it had “temporarily” taken down Tibetan and Uyghur language classes “due to government policies.”
This announcement was posted last Friday but appears to have been removed. The app, which appears to champion linguistic diversity, offers courses in nearly 100 languages, from Urdu and Montenegrin to Creole and Slovak, reported Protocol.
Another website named Bilibili banned comments posted in Uyghur and Tibetan. Screen recordings shared by Fergus Ryan, a senior analyst with ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, showed that when he tried to type comments in Uyghur and Tibetan, he received error messages that read: “Comment contains sensitive information.”
By contrast, comments in non-Mandarin languages appeared to be fine. Judging from screenshots shared by Bilibili users, Bilibili started censoring Uyghur comments as early as summer 2020, reported Protocol.
Talkmate and Bilibili are not the only Chinese apps that censor ethnic minority languages. A former ByteDance worker told Protocol earlier this year that the company’s software engineers had received requests from in-house content moderators to develop an algorithm that could detect Uyghur in a Douyin live stream and then automatically cut the stream off.
On Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese original, whenever live streamers speak an ethnic minority language and/or a dialect that the majority of Mandarin speakers do not understand, they will receive a warning to switch to Mandarin. If they do not do that, Douyin’s content moderators will manually cut off the live stream, regardless of the actual content, reported Protocol.
Earlier this year, the head of the National People’s Congress’ Legislative Affairs Commission declared that local regulations that allow schools to teach in minority languages are “inconsistent” with the constitution and other national laws.
Mandarin is China’s official language and its constitution enshrines the freedom for all ethnicities to “use and develop their own spoken and written languages.” But several ethnic minority languages, namely Uyghur, Tibetan and, to a certain extent, Mongolian, have been pushed to the margins under Xi Jinping’s rule as the Party takes an increasingly aggressive stance on ethnic assimilation, according to Human Rights Watch.