Local radio station Radio Al Balad has reported that their account on popular video sharing platform TikTok has been permanently deleted. The account had over 73,000 followers.
The station’s editor-in-chief, Mohammed Ersan, took to Twitter to report on the deletion, which he attributed to their posting of pro-Palestinian content.
“Our account was deleted after publishing peaceful sit-ins in solidarity with the Palestinian cause,” said Ersan in a message to Jordan News. “We are a media channel and our role is to report and cover events.”
“We fear that deleting our account comes as part of a campaign to cover Israel's crimes in Palestine and the bias of TikTok,” he added. “We have not violated TikTok’s standards. All the videos we broadcast are subject to professional and ethical journalistic standards.”
The radio station and its website are supported by the Community Media Network (CMN), a not-for-profit organization that manages media and cultural projects throughout Jordan.
This is not the first time the station has encountered trouble with their content. Ersan said that their account was also deleted, albeit only temporarily, during the teachers’ sit-ins in the summer of 2020. Jordanian teachers held large protests after police raided the Teachers’ Syndicate headquarters. “As you know, there was pressure on the media to stop publishing the news of the teachers' union,” Ersan said.
Ersan told Jordan News that his team contacted TikTok to ask for the permanent deletion to be reviewed. In a message shown to Jordan News, TikTok responded: “After further review, your account will remain permanently banned due to a violation of our Platform Security Policy.”
“Social media companies continue to suspend accounts without justification: Users are not informed of the reason behind the suspension, and the suspension often happens in a policy void,” said Raya Sharbain, program coordinator at the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA), which advocates digital rights. “More importantly, people are not given the opportunity to appeal the decision, closing all doors to account recovery.”
“This is a trend we've seen in many countries in this region, from Palestine to Syria, Egypt to Tunisia, whereby accounts belonging to human rights defenders, activists, and independent media get suspended suddenly with no chance of resuming their operations online,” she added.
“Countries in this region already suffer from an eroding civic space, so when platforms mirror the repressive behavior of governments, they're further suffocating our freedoms.”
Previously, Jordan News has reported on the censorship of pro-Palestinian activists on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. International media outlets have also reported on allegations that TikTok specifically censors political content.
According to Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, the founder of CMN, the deletion of Radio Al Belad’s account exemplifies the power private tech companies have accumulated. “The tech giant companies have basically taken over the vast majority of the media landscape,” he told Jordan News, noting noted that while some social media outlets and tech companies are dealing well with this power, “others seem to be abusing it.”
Kuttab also pointed out that most social media outlets do not differentiate between professional journalists and personal accounts when regulating content, which can lead to the seeming censorship of media outlets.
He also criticized the automated complaints systems some platforms use. Targeted campaigns of social media users may go after a certain account, drowning it in complaints to the platform until the account is deleted, regardless of whether it actually violates the platform’s rules.
Ersan said in his tweet that they were “afraid that they are responding to reports from government officials or pro-government people and have not looked into the content we are posting”. But in his remarks to Jordan News later, he played down this possibility.
However, Sharbain noted that TikTok’s moderation policies are a “black box” and it is not clear that TikTok uses this technique for choosing which accounts to delete. It is difficult to gauge why the account was taken down without a direct comment from TikTok.